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FC Barcelona's Next La Liga Opponent: Jornada 7 – Rayo Vallecano Scouting Report & Key Battles

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Hello and welcome to the scouting report and key battles weekly column! This week’s edition of Ahmed’s analysis will take a closer look at Rayo Vallecano’s transfers, form, strategy, a few things you (probably) didn't know about the club, predicted line-up and key battles.

Denis Doyle

Paco Jémez is a man of principles. When Jémez was asked if he’d ever doubted the style, the response was clear: "Never. I never have and I never will. I believe in what we do. If you bring me in as coach, you know what you’re getting," he said proudly.

Two seasons ago, only Barcelona and Bayern Munich had better possession statistics than Rayo Vallecano. Last season, only Barcelona (67.7%) bettered them (59.5%) on that front in La Liga. Astonishing statistics for a club of Rayo’s size and stature. Two seasons ago, when Rayo played Barcelona, they had more possession than them, the first team to manage that in 316 games.

Sid Lowe of The Guardian writes: "They threw men into attack, they were fun to watch, and parading the touchline in a dizzying array of multicoloured elbow patches and waistcoats, pink shirts and purple ties, Jémez urged them forward, always. In a country that values the aesthetic, or in which some do, he was eulogised for the way his teams played de tú a tú: as equals. Rayo didn't simply defend – sometimes they didn't defend at all – but instead they went for it."

He continues: "And, mostly, they lost. Rayo took the ball off Barcelona and Jémez declared himself "very proud". But they were beaten 4-0. They went to the Camp Nou where they were praised by Barcelona's players but they were beaten 6-0. This wasn't brave, said his critics, this was stupid; "there is a fine line between braveness and temerity," Jémez admitted. Familiar trenches were dug and this became another moral battle, almost an ideological war. The stupider they said it was over there; the purer they said it was over here, as if there was something deeper and less tangible. "At times of crisis, people spend money to see us play: we've got a responsibility to play nice football, otherwise what the hell are they spending their money for?" Jémez said and while some applauded, others groaned."

One thing is for sure; Paco Jémez will live or die by his principles. He will look to keep possession and attack in every possible instance. And with Rayo finishing in a fairly comfortable position of La Liga in the past few seasons (2011-2012 is the exception with them only staying up due to a last minute goal), is there really a case to question him?

Sid Lowe writes: "He wasn't. He insisted his team did not cross that line between bravery and temerity. The defeats came, he said, not because of the approach, not because they were too far forward but because of lapses of concentration; the application, not the idea, was at fault. He talked about a team who kept "slitting its wrists"."

Rayo Vallecano's struggle for consistency and a lot of this has to do with the fact that a large chunk of their players only stay for a season then leave and are replaced by new ones.  As mentioned above, 2011-2012 was the season where they only stayed in the division by the skin of their teeth. A year later, they finished as high as the European football positions but could not take the space up due to being excluded for a financial crisis. Last season, Rayo finished comfortably in a mid-table position. A normal transfer window for Rayo is when a high number depart and a high number arrive on loans and free transfers. They simply do not have the resources to compete with most Madrid teams, let alone La Liga  teams.

With large debts, the club has had to let go of its best goalscorers in recent years. First Michu and later Piti, Baptistão and Delibasic. Diego Costa and Tamudo recently also played for the club. But they then brought back Baptistão on loan and what a masterstroke he is proving to be. I would like to mention that Rayo are one of the lowest spenders in La Liga, but having spent £440,000 this season, there are others who have not spent a single penny in transfer fees.

As he Paco himself put it: "We're the shittiest team in the league and unless we realise that, we will suffer." But realising that did not mean rolling into a ball, 11 men behind the ball and protecting themselves; in the long run that may be no protection at all. By the same token, playing gung ho football may also not be the best forms of protection. Yet as the old saying goes: "Attack is the best form of defence." Sitting back was no guarantee, quite the opposite. "If, as well as being small, you're a coward, you're going to get a beating from all sides," the coach told Panenka magazine. So Rayo went for teams. When they struggled and were about to get relegated in 2012, many managers would have wilted at just the prospect of relegation. But not Paco.

"The people who say we're dead turn me on," he said. That didn't include the fans who, even as they feared, continued to support the team. "Giving their all" tends to mean running around a lot, defending "heroically"; in Vallecas it meant something different. When they were defeated against Sevilla last season, supporters chanted and shouted until the team came back out and then gave them a standing ovation. Rayo had taken 10 shots but lost 1-0.

This goes back to the two conflicting questions of what a club is without its identity and what possession is without results? Most will have a clear idea on where they stand on this, and understandably so, but if a person supports a team that has done all they could to win whilst playing with attacking football against ‘superior’ opposition and end up losing, then they’ll more than likely make their way home with their heads held high and (somewhat) satisfied.

This brings us to their phenomenal fans (not supporters, as Rayo’s former Manager Jose Ramon Sandoval described it). He once memorably said in a build-up to a match with derby rivals Real Madrid: "Anyone who hasn't been here before will find out what this place is like. There's a soul here. There's something about this place: every second something happens, from the first minute to the 93rd. Thousands of throats carry us, like the wind. It never stops; they never stop. More than afición [supporters], we're talking about hinchada [fans]. They have done all they can to make tomorrow special: hopefully everything will go well and everyone will enjoy it, win or lose – that's the priority. You should see them: they have been preparing this for days."

Sid Lowe writes: "A huge painted tarpaulin, weeks in the making, was passed over the supporters in the end. Republican flags, red, yellow and purple, were everywhere. The red and black of the anarchists. Ché Guevara banners and others appealing for the legalisation of cannabis. Not that it needed legalising on this evidence. Countless flags, Rayo's red thunderbolt scorched across them. Song too: the Marseillaise, the Internationale, Yankee Doodle. It went round: end to the sunny side and back; end to shaded side and back again, like a drill sergeant, or Freddie Mercury yodeling with his audience. Lots and lots of noise. No one sat, not once. Instead they squeezed in, clapping and bouncing and singing. Even the half-time entertainment was different: a beast of a man celebrated his prize by parading bare-chested across the pitch waving a Republican flag. Now, those are fans."

Their fans have been through a lot. Their acute financial and institutional problems are one of the things. They now have President Raul Martin Presa who is slowly but surely bringing Rayo’s financial state back to normality. Before this they had arguably some of the most incompetent owners in the recent history of Spanish football. The Nueva Rumasa (the financially-troubled Spanish food and drink group) at various times suspended payments to clients. The company was owned by
José María Ruiz-Mateos, indeed a truly appalling businessman who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion.

These were the charges he was found guilty of in the 1980s when the first incarnation of Rumasa was shut down by the Spanish government due to debt and unpaid bills. And these are the charges that the Ruiz-Mateos empire which includes his 13 children are now facing again.

At the time in 2011, Four-Four-Two wrote: "Players have tried visiting his estate, wearing t-shirts calling for solutions and petitioning his crazy wife Teresa Rivero, who is the club president - her delightful husband had to pull a swift financial trick and put the club into her hands as his reputation was less than clean - but the only response from Rivero was the claim that the players weren’t trying hard enough in their promotion campaign and that her husband is "a man of his word."

It continues: "Supporters have also being trying to force Ruiz-Mateos to sell up and leave Vallecas. Fans have formed a human chain around the stadium, ripped the Teresa Rivero letters from the front of the ground that takes her name, held up a banner portraying Ruiz-Mateos as a mafia godfather and even formed a convoy to the family home in the posh part of Madrid."

Clearly no longer with Rayo Vallecano, but where are Ruiz-Mateos and Nueva Rumasa now?

According to Alberto Ortin of Cinco Dias: "No more signs of victory. Gone are those recurring images from the eighties of the last century where the patriarch of the Ruiz-Mateos family raised his fingers in victory, despite the legal and business losses in which he became involved. José María Ruiz-Mateos, 83, now lives isolated in a terraced cottage in Pozuelo (Madrid), suffering from Parkinson's, relatives say he's very damaged and estranged from his children."

It continues: "This newspaper has tried repeatedly to contact José María Ruiz-Mateos, but it is no longer possible to talk to him. A few days ago, he called several times to its current home intercom. The house maid answered the call and explained that José María Ruiz-Mateos could not attend because the visit was meeting because he had gone ... finally left the house the wife of José María Ruiz-Mateos, María Teresa Rivero. "We will not do more interviews, statements or anything ... We are fed up with lawyers, journalists ... We're having a hard time," he said."

Nueva Rumasa is history for Ruiz-Mateos that much is certain. Ruiz-Mateos recovered from Rumasa’s scandals in the 20th century, but there is no way he could recover from Rumasa’s most recent crisis. It is reported that Nueva Rumasa was sold to a ‘vulture fund’ called Back in Business for an estimated €1.5 billion. Not bad for a financially-troubled company, if you ask me.

Transfers

Taking everything into account, Rayo Vellecano’s summer transfer window has been nothing short of fantastic. They haven’t let go of any key players and they have brought in a number of great ones without spending more than £440,000, with the highlights being a string of loan moves in Leo Baptistão, Emiliano Insúa, Licá and Abdoulaye Ba.

Johan Mojica from Cali for £440,000 is the only signing Rayo Vallecano made for any amount.

They have invested in a number of free signings, including, Àlex Moreno from Mallorca B, Toño from Elche CF, Alejandro Pozuelo from Swansea City, Jorge Morcillo from Recreativo Huelva, Jozabed Sánchez from Real Jaen CF, Manucho from Real Valladolid, Antonio Amaya from Real Betis, Derek Boateng from Fulham FC, Quini from Real Madrid Castilla and Diego Aguirre from CD Toledo.

They have also loaned Abdoulaye , Licá, Mohammed Fatau, Leo Baptistão, Jonathan Pereira, Javier Aquino, Cristian Álvarez, Emiliano Insúa and Gaël Kakuta. Squad depth? Check.

Rayo Vallecano haven’t sold a single player. All the players that have left have either left for free or on loan. Alberto Perea, Rubén, Adrián González, Joaquín Larrivey, Derek Boateng, Sebastián Fernández, José Carlos, Razvan Rat and Alejandro Gálvez were allowed to leave on a free. Anaitz Arbilla, Nery Castillo and Leonel Galeano have also left.

Diego Aguirre and Johan Mojica were both loaned out to the Segunda Division. A number of players returned back to their clubs after their loan spells ended.

Form

Rayo Vallecano’s pre-season was a mixed bag and their season has been exactly that, with two draw, two losses and then followed by two wins. Their highlights have been holding Atletico Madrid, beating Athletic Bilbao and Levante. On the other hand, their lowlights has been losses to Elche and Villarreal.

Strategy

Rayo Vallecano’s strategy is to attack, attack and attack some more. They don’t really know any other way.

Teboho Molapo of BSports writes: "Rayo are a daring and cavalier side. Their ringmaster Paco Jémez sets his team out for offence, pushing them high up the pitch and often encouraging his full-backs to almost become wingers. The football is treasured at Rayo and they always look to pass out from the back."

Two season ago, in reference to Celtic’s defensive display in a narrow 2-1 UEFA Champions League loss to Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Jémez said: "I could play like Celtic did, but I would drop my head in shame when I looked in the eyes of our fans."

It is a strategy that has seen Rayo produce some of the most audacious football in La Liga since their promotion in 2011. However, this philosophy, coupled with Rayo’s constant loss of players due to their financial problems (25 in all have left over the past three seasons) has its drawbacks. In defence, especially, problems are always amplified. Yet it needs to be said that they are pretty savvy in finding replacements.

A Few Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano de Madrid is based in Madrid, in the neighbourhood of Vallecas. Founded on 29 May 1924, it holds home matches at the 14,708-seater Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas.

The Libero Guide writes: "With their distinctive red lightning-bolt stripe (‘rayo’), the flagship club of working-class Vallecas only became Rayo Vallecano as late as 1995. Before then, the club was the Rayo Athletics Association, with a modest history dating back to 1924. Gaining promotion to the top flight in 1977, shortly after the inauguration of the intimate Estadio de Vallecas where they remained unbeaten all that season, Rayo only managed three seasons in La Liga before another decade with the smaller fish."

It continues: "In the early 1990s, controversial businessman José María Ruiz-Mateos assumed control of Rayo, passing ownership to his wife, Teresa Rivero, who became the first female president of a top-flight Spanish club. This mother-of-13 presided over the most successful era in the club’s history, briefly topping the Spanish league and reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. The Rayo women’s team also became one of Spain’s best. Fans later voted to name the stadium after her, but Ruiz-Mateos was forced to release control of his shares in the club in 2011 – the year Rayo gained promotion back to the top flight. A creditable eighth place in 2013 under coach Paco represents the highest league finish in Rayo’s history. Sadly Europa League participation for 2013-14 was refused as Rayo lacked a UEFA licence."

Richard of Spanish Football Info writes: "Another club synonymous with protest is Madrid’s lesser known club, Rayo Vallecano, located in the ultra-proud, working class neighbourhood of Vallecas. Rayo’s fans are as political as they come, and they certainly aren’t shy of a bit of protest. Last season, their Ultras, the Bukaneros, voiced their concern about having matches on Friday evenings for the purpose of television by boycotting both of their games which were played on a Friday night. The usually packed stand behind the goal was notably empty, except for a banner reading ‘Say No to Football on Friday’. Similarly to St. Pauli in Hamburg, their fans are also aligned to the local anti-fascist movement and have organized special ‘Anti-racism match days’."

He continues: "This isn’t even mentioning the giant Che Guevara flag waved at each game, the absence of modern Spanish national flags in favour of the old Republican flags in the stadium, or the left-wing and general anti-authoritarian sentiments in many of their chants. Bearing in mind all this and the fact that a large number of their fans look like punks or hippies, a first time visitor outside a Rayo game would be forgiven for thinking they going to a political rally instead of a football match."

Richard also wrote about the fascinating relationship that the Rayo fans had with former President Teresa Rivero: "Before the fateful news was announced, Rivero had enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the club since she became President of in 1994. A mother of no less than thirteen children and a housewife until she became President, she presided over the most successful period in the club’s history, enjoying top- flight football for four consecutive seasons between 1999-2003, and reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup (in 1999/00). Captain Michel has said ‘she is like a mother to all of us’, and the fans took to her too, passing a referendum in 2004 to re-name the stadium ‘El Estádio Teresa Rivero’."

He continues: "However, with news of the financial situation, coupled with Rivero’s comments in Huesca [on fans not trusting her husband], the relationship appears to be in tatters. At a 1-0 home win against fellow madrileño side Alcorcón, large sections of the crowd were chanting obscenities at the Presidential box where she was sitting. Many banners were displayed against Rivero, her husband and his corporation, with messages including "Rumasa No, Rayo Si", "87 Years of History Deserves More Respect Than This", and to top it all "Teresa: May God Forgive You, Because The Fans Won’t." Before the game, her name had been ripped off the stadium’s main sign, while another sign, above the door to the players’ entrance, showed her name had been crossed out in black pen."

Predicted Line-up

Paco Jémez favours a 4-2-3-1 formation and tends not to rotate much.

Tono will start in goal since first-choice goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez is injured until mid-October. Tito will start as the right-back. Ze Castro and Abdoulaye Ba are the preferred centre-backs, while Emiliano Insua should make up the rest of the back four. It looks like Ze Castro could be injured, so the remaining position could be between Jorge Morcillo and Antonio Amaya (who has been injured since April). Morcillo could be given the nod if Ze Castro is out.

A central midfield pairing consisting of Roberto Trashorras and Raul Baena is likely to be deployed. Lica will start on the right (Javier Aquino is also an option), Alberto Bueno in the centre and Gael Kakuta on the left of midfield. Leo Baptistão is a certainty to start as the lone striker.

Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Tono; Tito, Morcillo, Ba, Insua; Trashorras, Baena; Lica, Bueno, Kakuta; Baptistão

Key Battles

Roberto Trashorras v Ivan Rakitic - Rayo Vallecano’s captain and 33 years old, Roberto Trashorras is one of the best passers in the league with an average of over 80 passes per game. He was at Barcelona for a whole decade, from 1993 to 2003. Ivan Rakitic matches this but plays for a better team, of course.


Winner: It should be a close one. Deadlock.

Leo Baptistão v Gerard Pique
- As Adam Matvya of SB Nation’s Barca Blaugranes wrote: "The young Brazilian could only muster 1 goal in 22 appearances for
Real Betis and Atlético last season. His patience was then further tested this past summer as Atlético continually used him as a bargaining chip in bids for various high-profile names. After their win over Athletic, Leo was seen walking off the pitch in tears. Two seasons ago, as a 19 year-old, Baptistão helped lead Rayo to what would have been a Europa League birth, if not for a UEFA sanction that banned them from Europe. After what's been a frustrating twelve months since his departure from Vallecas, it was emotional seeing Baptistão regain his form under Paco Jémez, as his projection to La Liga stardom depends on it." Pique didn’t feature against PSG but he is certain to start at Rayo.

Winner: As good as Leo Baptistão’s form is Barcelona’s defence should be much improved and more focused after the horror show in Paris. Pique wins.

Abdoulaye Ba v Munir El Haddadi - Ba and Insua are pretty formidable on the left-side of Rayo Vallecano’s defence. Ba is a lean and lofty centre-back who passionately attacks the ball and has a forte for cutting off passes. Munir (or whoever plays on the right-side of attack) will have to be close to his best to get any chance out of Ba and Insua. Munir’s start to the season has been wonderful, but he needs to be more clinical with his end-product.

Winner:
Although prone to the occasional error, Ba should have enough about him to contain Munir. The difficult (almost impossible) job will be containing the likes of Messi and Neymar.

Set-pieces v Set-pieces: Barcelona struggled badly against PSG in set-pieces. As Rob Brown of SB Nation’s Barca Blaugranes wrote: "It’s all so basic that it defies belief. In no universe should a team with Barça’s budget and available talent be trusted to fail to do the rudimentary elements of set-piece defending, but time and time again this situation develops and the best teams punish them."

So how will they respond at Vallecas?

Final Thoughts

Rayo Vallecano is that team in La Liga where you just don’t know which team will turn up, but at the same time you do. They are inconsistent result-wise, but you know they’ll attempt to play attacking football with possession. They are ultra-proud and from the working-class neighbourhood of Madrid, as evidenced by their passionate fans.

As for the match itself, Barcelona’s record against Rayo Vallecano is flawless with six wins out of six. Predicting results and scores (and getting them right) for both Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano is very difficult nowadays. I expect Barcelona to bounce back from a deserved defeat to PSG (which is probably great for Barcelona in the long run). A clean sheet should be on the cards, but Barcelona need to be wary of giving Baptistão a chance because his finishing is lethal at the moment. The amount of goals should depend on how attacking Paco Jémez sets his team up and whether Barcelona are clinical. I’ll go with a 3-0 win to Barcelona.

I respect Rayo Vallecano’s philosophy and their fans passion for the game. I therefore wish them the best of luck for the season ahead.

By the way, watch out for the Real Madrid Scouting Report & Key Battles special edition which will be a collaboration with Xoel Cardenas!!

Thank you for reading, take care and goodbye until next time!