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The Rayo Report: Real Zaragoza 3-2 Rayo Vallecano - Versatility beats the Vallecanos (13th November, 2017)

Real Zaragoza vs Rayo Vallecano. Starting lineups.

Míchel reverted to a 4-3-3 formation from three at the back that drew 1-1 against Albacete, and dropped Dorado in place for buccaneering right back Baiano. Natxo González made wholesale changes from the side that lost 3-1 at Huesca - in defense Alain Oyarzun was replaced at left back by Ángel Martínez, Mikel González was replaced at right center-back by Simone Grippo and Alberto Benito was replaced at right back by Julián Delmás. And in midfield and attack there was a complete shake-up tactically - Oliver Buff and Javi Ros was replaced by Aleix Febas and Íñigo Eguaras.

This was a game that summed up both teams perfectly - defensively lacking, strong in attack and a hardworking yet technically astute midfield. Zaragoza were actually quite poor going forward, and didn't create many chances. But they took the ones they had, and the sheer versatility of their players allowed Zaragoza to change systems quickly and seal the win.

First half setups

Zaragoza's 4-4-2 system was slightly tweaked for this match. Instead of Gaizka Toquero occupying the right wing, the tireless striker returned to a more central role behind main striker Borja Iglesias. Sometimes he dropped deep as a number 10 and pressed Fran Beltrán; sometimes he played as a second striker and pressed Abdoulaye Ba; and often he did both.

Abdoulaye Ba had a very nervy game. On the ball he was skillful but casual - for example in the 11th minute Toquero was running at him to press him and Ba was able to turn him twice in a row. But there were other moments when he tried too much - six minutes later he tried flicking the ball over Toquero, which did not go well and ended with Ba frantically trying to hold on the the ball. However, defensively he had a terrible game, as will be shown later, but let's just say that his 48th minute yellow card for a terrible tackle on Borja Iglesias was entirely deserved.

Speaking of Borja Iglesias, he went directly head-to-head against Emiliano Velázquez and tried to take him on. However, apart from a 32nd minute one-on-one shot on goal where Borja Iglesias latched onto a long ball, turned Emiliano, and had his shot saved, Borja found it difficult to get past him and instead engaged in hold up play - Zaragoza's second and third goals were both assisted by him.

The midfield was key here - Míchel quite curiously switched Santi Comesaña and Unai López, which meant that Rayo's right side was left exposed time and time again. Unai López, as quick as he is, is not defensively astute, and there were times when Fran Beltrán was desperately trying to cover. In fact, Zaragoza's first goal in the 26th minute came from a corner - Íñigo Eguaras took it short and played a one-two with Aleix Febas, before crossing it in for Simone Grippo to beat his marker in the air and score (he was being marked, quite predictably, by Abdoulaye Ba). But that corner only came about because Zaragoza's left back Ángel Martínez ran through and had his cross deflected behind by Fran.

Speaking of Ángel Martínez, it is worth looking at the role of the full backs and wingers. All four full backs - Álex Moreno and Baiano, as well as Ángel Martínez and Julián Delmás, pushed higher up the pitch and sometimes even took each other on one-on-one. In the 18th minute Álex Moreno actually nutmegged Julián Delmás and ran through the entire Zaragoza right side, but had his cross cleared away by Diogo Verdasca. But Ángel Martínez had the most attacking influence on this game, and was involved in Zaragoza's second goal.

As for the wingers, while Raúl Guti played a more defensive role and often dropped deeper into the midfield zone, Aleix Febas used his pace to take on players one-on-one and exploit space; in the 34th minute he ran through the entire Rayo right wing unopposed but at the last minute was pushed off the ball just before he crossed the ball into the box. And Zaragoza's second goal in the 42nd minute was a combination of many aspects described above - Ángel Martínez latching on to a loose ball and passing it to Febas, Febas playing the ball to Borja Iglesias, Borja holding up the ball, laying it off to Febas who made a diagonal run to the center and Febas' first time shot beating Alberto.

But it wasn't just Rayo's defense that was poor - Zaragoza were essentially playing a high risk 2 vs 3 game and were very lucky not to concede. In the 11th minute Raúl de Tomás made a run evading Grippo, and latched onto a wonderfully weighted Óscar Trejo through ball, but his first time shot one-on-one with Cristian Álvarez was casual and easily saved. And Embarba got past Verdasca time and time again - in the 22nd minute Embarba left him dead for pace and took a shot from a tight angle, forcing a last-ditch save. Diogo Verdasca generally had a terrible game - he was booked in the 39th minute for blatantly pulling Óscar Trejo's shirt - and was substituted for the vastly more experienced Mikel González at half-time.

The frantic nature of the game, as well as Zaragoza's more defensive nature (just 43% possession in both halves), meant that Zaragoza's midfield duo of Alberto Zapater and Íñigo Eguaras was restricted in terms of on-the-ball responsibilities. Alberto Zapater mostly calmed the game down, helping out in passing out the back, while Eguaras shuttled the ball to the wings and the forwards.

Second half - substitutions galore!

Real Zaragoza vs Rayo Vallecano. 52nd minute.

With Rayo losing 2-0, Míchel's first change came in the 52nd minute. Diego Aguirre came on for Unai López, shifting the Rayo system to a lopsided 4-2-3-1 and stretching the Zaragoza defense. Within a minute, an Embarba cross found the head of Raúl de Tomás. 2-1.

Contrast that, however, with what happened in the 61st minute - Natxo González tucked both wingers into central midfield positions, shifted Gaizka Toquero onto the right wing and brought in Jorge Pombo for Íñigo Eguaras, and suddenly Zaragoza were playing in a 4-1-4-1. Not only did it mean that Zaragoza were able to defend better, it meant that Zapater was closer to the defense, and Zaragoza were able to play out of the back more.

Real Zaragoza vs Rayo Vallecano. 61st minute.

Rayo's second goal was really an anomaly - Baiano passed the ball to Trejo, who in turn passed it to Embarba who had made a run. Embarba lost the ball while trying to turn, but the ball wasn't cleared properly and that meant that Trejo was able to latch onto the ball and score. But other than that Rayo never got a look in, and Zaragoza always looked likely to score.

Zaragoza's third goal actually was the result of a very strange 76th minute Rayo substitution - removing Raúl de Tomás and bringing on Alejandro Domínguez. Raúl de Tomás was crucial in pressing Zaragoza's defense and the substitution meant that Zaragoza were able to pass freely around at the back. Within two minutes of that substitution, Jorge Pombo ran centrally with the ball, passed it to Borja Iglesias, who evaded Abdoulaye Ba and passed the ball back to Pombo to score from just outside the six yard box. 3-2.

Real Zaragoza vs Rayo Vallecano. 76th minute.

Immediately, Rayo brought on Manucho for Fran Beltrán, but it was too little too late - in the 87th minute Simone Grippo brought down Manucho in the box but a penalty was not given and Rayo didn't really have a clear chance otherwise.

Real Zaragoza vs Rayo Vallecano. 80th minute. (Javi Ros came on for Guti in the 92nd minute)


Rayo, once again, were suspect defensively - Dorado was effectively replaced by Abdoulaye Ba this game who is much better on the ball but still frustrating off it. To be fair, Real Zaragoza were quite poor defensively too, and on another night this could have very much been three points in Rayo's column insread.

Nevertheless, huge credit goes to Real Zaragoza, and especially to Natxo González - it was especially fascinating to see Zaragoza's players transition into different systems so quickly and so efficiently. In the 61st minute, a striker (Gaizka Toquero) moved to the right wing, a right winger (Raúl Guti) moved into left central midfield and a left winger (Aleix Febas) moved into right central midfield.

And that's not even counting the substitution that actually happened!


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