Rayo Vallecano is a football club based in the working class neighbourhood of Vallecas (Madrid), founded in 1924. They had a 12th place finish last year although they had a brilliant start and saw themselves in the Champions League spots for a short while. They also managed to reach the Copa Del Rey semi-finals. After some poor form they eventually survived relegation comfortably and will look to improve on last season’s place. Uptil now they have added DF Unai Lopez, FW Salvi and GK Diego Lopez to the squad. Rayo is a team with passionate fans but unfortunately working on a very tight budget. Their preseason has seen 3 draws and 2 wins, in particular a 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although considering the shape United are in this is not much of a surprise.
Rayo Vallecano is coached by Andoni Iraola, only the second youngest coach in La Liga right now. Iraola is a Basque legend who made 510 appearances for Athletic Bilbao while playing as a right-back. He’s played under Marcelo Bielsa as well as Ernesto Valverde. This is important to note as his coaching ideas seem to be heavily influenced by Bielsa. Rayo are a team that play a high-risk, high reward style similar to the aggressive tactics that are commonly seen in teams coached by Bielsa. Andoni Iraola is a young coach that has all the makings of one that could soon make the jump to a “big club”. He’s tactically intelligent while also being calm, cool and calculated. There’s just something about Spanish managers being so tactically fluid.
Rayo generally line-up in a 4-2-3-1 spear-headed by Radamel Falcao. It’s a system that requires full commitment from each player and when executed well it has worked and produced some surprises. We can be testament to that as last season Rayo did the double over Barca winning both games with a 1-0 scoreline. They have proved themselves to be tough customers. Rayo break down opponents through their width and verticality, especially by using their full-backs to overload opposition defenses. A balanced midfield double pivot allows an ultra attacking team to function. Rayo are one of the most high-pressing teams in La Liga, committing 3.2 players per pressing action. In general this tends to be something with which Barca has struggled to come out of.
In particular, during last season’s games Iraola’s team while defending cut out passing lanes between Busquets and the CB’s. This was huge as it drastically hindered Barca’s ability to play out from the back. Taking Busquets out of the game is like chopping off a leg. This is something Xavi needs to work on countering either by asking another CM to drop deeper or using the CF to open up space in behind. What Xavi seems to prefer though is using a fullback( usually the RB) to drop into the midfield essentially forming a double-pivot which provides Busi more cover as well as more passing options. Last season, Dani Alves was used quite effectively in this role. However, there are some clear doubts about Dest’s ball-playing abilities which are crucial when playing in that inverted-RB role that Xavi wishes to use.
Rayo Vallecano are a well-drilled team that will look to cause another upset at the Camp Nou. Hopefully, Xavi has learnt some lessons from his previous meeting with them. The La Liga title charge officially kicks off with this game.
It’s a new season with new players and a renewed sense of hope in the fans. The team looks hungry and motivated. Maybe this is the year we bring back glory to the Camp Nou.
Visca el Barca!