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The Rayo Report: Rayo Vallecano 4-1 Real Valladolid - The new Rayo vs The old Rayo (12th October, 2017)

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Valladolid. Starting lineups.

Both managers went with similar lineups as the week before. Míchel made no changes from the side that lost 2-1 at Huesca. And Luis César Sampedro made a solitary change, bringing in Toni Villa for Pablo Hervías on the right wing.

This was a comprehensive victory for Rayo, who ended the game with just 36% possession (40% in the first half and 32% in the second). More importantly, it was characterized by both managers making multiple changes, both tactical and personnel-wise, throughout the game.

First half set up

Real Valladolid went with a very Rayo-esque 4-2-3-1 formation - and they played very much like Rayo too.

Borja Fernández sat in the "Trashorras" role, dropping deep into the defense and (trying to) dictating play. Luismi sat further forward trying to break up play. Óscar Plano sat on the left wing, occasionally trying to dictate Valladolid's attacking game but very much ended up hugging the touchline along with Toni Villa on the right.

Jaime Mata, the striker, pressed Dorado heavily and very much leaned towards the right side of the pitch. It also gave Salvador opportunities to make runs from the left into the central areas of the pitch. This was best personified in the 11th minute when Dorado slipped while receiving a back-pass, but Alberto was there to clean up. Later, the very same minute, Salvador takes a shot from the space behind Santi Comesaña, and Alberto is called into action again.

While Salvador made many mazy runs forward, he was also called to defend and match the incredible work rate of Comesaña - and it did not go to play. His defensive prowess was lacking, and it was telling that when he conceded a penalty in the 39th minute, he didn't even protest, immediately raising his hand up as an apology. That was Rayo's third goal of the game.

What was interesting was seeing Ángel García play extremely high up the pitch, which left Valladolid's defense highly vulnerable to counter-attacks. It would be hard to blame Valladolid's central defenders though - the goals came from Rayo's counter-attacking ability rather than any defensive errors.

Rayo's formation was so lopsided that every player deserves at least a sentence.

The defense was quite standard. The full-backs Álex Moreno and Baiano played their usual roles, with Moreno more adventurous with his runs - Baiano seemed highly cautious and forced himself to stay behind the half-way line - partly because of Ángel García's forward runs.

But it was in midfield where things got interesting. Unai López occupied the half-space between the midfield and the left wing. His role was to shuttle the ball from the wing into the central areas of the pitch. At times, he become a third midfielder, joining the double pivot of Fran Beltrán and Santi Comesaña. Santi worked incredibly hard, and even covered for Fran who quite unusually made many forward runs. As early as the fourth minute, a throw-in in Valladolid's half from Moreno into empty space found Fran, who had run from the half way line and then took a punt at goal.

Embarba and Raúl de Tomás played as the two strikers upfront, with Raúl de Tomás almost playing as a right winger at times in attempts to press and disorganize the Valladolid defense. Embarba's work was more on-the-ball, and he had an excellent game - even making intelligent runs behind the defense.

It must be pointed out that Raúl de Tomás had a very poor game - even though he scored the penalty, his shots were nowhere near on target and his pressing always seemed to be a second out of sync. There were two moments that captured it - in the 31st minute the cameras shifted to the Rayo dugout, where Míchel, usually calm and collected, was visibly frustrated and gave Raúl de Tomás a piece of his mind. The second was in the 36th minute - Rayo were on the counter, and Embarba dribbled past 5 different players, played a seamless cross field pass to Raúl de Tomás, who took a long shot without looking around for runners. Unsurprisingly, the shot went miles wide.

It was Trejo's role that really took me by surprise. He was playing a number 10 role, but his generally running off the ball was diagonal. Yes, diagonal - he would become the third midfielder instead of Unai on the left if Unai was on the wing. And often, off the ball, he would become the right center forward if Raúl de Tomás was in the middle. Nevertheless, his best moments came when he played through the middle and pressed Borja, who had a terrible game. Trejo even got booked in the 24th minute for a cynical foul on the 36-year-old.

That was Rayo's first goal - Trejo pressing on Borja who had kept the ball for too long, and a wonderful pass to Embarba left him one-on-one with the keeper in the eighth minute. He scored Rayo's second too, making an intelligent run to meet Unai's pass which doubled Rayo's lead in the 16th minute. Antonito perhaps deserves some criticism here for not maintaining his line, and helping play Trejo onside for the second goal.

Second half

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Valladolid. Second half after substitutions

With the game all but over at 3-0, each manager made two changes. Salvador, who was on a yellow, was subbed off for Asier Villalibre, and played up front with Jaime. This time, it was Asier who took the task of pressing Dorado, and Jaime took on Emiliano Velázquez, who had a quietly excellent game. At the same time, the more tough-tackling Luismi was replaced by the more creative Míchel (different Míchel of course).

Tactically, it meant that all Toni Villa and Óscar Plano had to do was receive the ball in space - and Real Valladolid were on the ascendancy for the first 10 minutes. Toni Villa's game in the second half was miles ahead of his quiet performance in the first. In fact, Valladolid's 51st minute goal was a Villa cross that met Plano in the box - both of Rayo's full backs couldn't get back in time.

Míchel (the Rayo coach) made two very subtle changes. One was to switch Embarba for Raúl de Tomás. Suddenly, Ángel García was pushed back, and often ended up chasing Embarba - his 65th minute yellow was a clumsy challenge from behind and summed up his night. The second, arguably even more subtle, was have Unai drop slightly deeper and cover the left flank much more often, which stopped Antonito making any forward runs.

Rayo - five at the back?

Several changes were made from the 65th minute. The first was in the 68th, when Abdoulaye Ba came on for Raúl de Tomás. This meant that Rayo essentially were playing a 5-3-2.

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Valladolid. 68th minute.

Ba played an unusual position - sometimes he would sit behind the defense and sweep from behind, but other times he would step into midfield and cut out passes. It was essentially a free role for a defender - and it mostly worked out fine. Mostly - there was a moment in the 83rd minute when a poor pass by Baiano to Ba was cut out and Villaibre's shot on goal really should have made it 3-2.

The second change was in the 75th minute, when Pablo Hervías came on for Ángel García. He hugged the touchline, and was Valladolid's best attacking outlet. He even went on several mazy runs, but to no avail.

The third change, which made the most immediate impact, was made by Rayo just before they were supposed to take a goal kick. Trejo went off for Aguirre in the 84th minute. The change was made, Rayo took the goal kick, Aguirre ran away from the Valladolid goal to head the ball past the Valladolid defense, Embarba was one-on-one and Rayo's fourth goal sealed the deal in the 85th minute. Almost immediately, Cerro came on for Santi Comesaña in the 86th minute, to rest the hard working youngster.


It was weird seeing Rayo play on the counter attack and not dominate possession.

But this new Rayo, as lopsided as its formation may be, oddly suits the players. It suits Moreno and Baiano to run up and down the wing. It suits Unai to not be playing defensively in the center of the park. It suits Embarba to be closer to the action, rather than chasing long balls down the wing. It suits Trejo to play off the strikers in a deeper role. It suits Santi Comesaña to be a team player, to quietly cover for his teammates.

Either Míchel trusts the players more, or has stumbled upon a formation that works.

As for Real Valladolid, they weren't actually poor. They just really missed Pablo Hervías, and could have used him for the entire 90 minutes.

That attacking creativity could have made the difference - along with better individual performances from Borja and Antonito.


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