Vallecas, Madrid – Vallecas at the moment is not in a good state. Whether Rayo Vallecano should be there, for a start, is questionable. In a stadium proclaimed unsafe to host football matches only a few weeks ago, Rayo were deemed unfit as they succumbed to a heavy defeat at the hands of Alaves; perceived by some early on to be a rival in the fight stay up.
It was not until the eleventh hour that the match was given the green light, with the game against Athletic Bilbao having to be postponed before the international break. The authorities that own Vallecas performed the relevant due diligence checks – which involved loading the stands with lead weights – to ensure that the crowd would be safe when inside. From a structural standpoint they were, but from a footballing view, they were not.
Having won promotion from the Segunda Division last season after two years away from La Liga, there’s no doubt that a greatly cherished club are making their welcomed top-flight return. In terms of what the club represents and the connection that it has with its local working-class community, then Rayo are certainly a club that deserves its place in La Liga. It represents its area of southern Madrid with pride and that should be applauded.
However, their early start to the season has cast doubt as to whether Rayo have enough quality to survive in the top-flight let alone compete. Having had one of their matches postponed due to the stadium issue, they have only played four matches; winning just the one against fellow newly-promoted side Huesca by a single goal. Considering they have faced Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in those four games, a pinch of salt may well have to be used to extrapolate beyond the early signs. But having conceded seven goals in three matches doesn’t bode well.
If ever there was a team that knew what early season blues looked like, it was Rayo’s opponents on Saturday, Alaves. Having started last season with only two wins from 13 games – and the other 11 were all loses – Abelardo was brought in as manager in December and now 30 matches on they have won 16 out of 30 with three draws. Their 51 points total in that time is only bettered by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
What Abelardo brought, along with his natural enthusiasm, was a structure and belief in his players. Having survived on the last day with Sporting Gijon in 2016 he has stated that instilling confidence in the players is crucial to surviving in La Liga. With three victories on the run, Alaves are developing a large separation from the relegation zone. Maintaining their La Liga status is the primary concern and despite currently sitting third in the table, Abelardo said post-match that “We’ve got a quarter of the way towards our goal this season [survival]”.
Their performance on Saturday was certainly one to relish. Despite Rayo starting the match on the front foot with Alvaro Garcia wasting a good early opportunity for the hosts, Alaves slowly found their feet and grew into the game. Ximo Navarro flicked on an Alaves free-kick that looped beyond goalkeeper Alberto Garcia to give the visitors the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
Rayo did manage to equalise with 30 minutes played; Jonny’s left-footed shot from just inside the area was partially blocked by the legs of Laguardia but the ball fell nicely for Raul de Thomas to poke the ball home from close range. Parity wouldn’t last for long however, the brute force and know-how of this Alaves side spoke true as goals either side of half-time took the visitors beyond their hosts.
Alaves have become a team that pleases the eye since Abelardo took charge; there is a finesse about the way in which the Basques play. Ibai Gomez’s strike to make it 2-1 came following exuberant expansive Alaves play but the goal was a piece of individual quality. A left-footed curled shot from outside of the area was hit with precision and power; Garcia didn’t get close to it.
If matters could get worse for struggling Rayo then VAR intervened to ensure they did. It was rightly pointed out that Abdoulaye Ba, the Senegalese centre-back, had struck Jonathan Calleri with his forearm in the build-up to the goal; he was given his marching orders. Ten minutes into the second-half and Alaves had their third – a pinpoint cross from John Guidetti on the right presented Calleri with a perfect header from close range.
With Rayo split and torn down the seams, it became a case of how many Alaves could score. Having a sturdy defence is the bedrock to any survival charge but the Madrid club lack both a coherent back-line and attack currently. A bit of a spruce up may be needed both in the stands and on the pitch if this continues. The weight on de Thomas’s shoulders to score was telling and he may well be buckling under the pressure.
Another cross, this time from the left, was headed back across the Rayo penalty area towards Gomez who fired a well-taken volley into the net for the fourth. Rayo’s porous defence allowed Burgui to run and shoot in stoppage time to add insult to injury for the home side.
“The idea was to get back into the game, but I didn’t see that,” Rayo head coach Michel said after the match. “We have to show more spirit.” For a club that has long been built on a togetherness and harnessed the spirit that unity brings, this is a little worrying.
Rayo are always going to be a rough and ready type of team but with that needs to be a controlled and measured approach. Albeit it’s still very early in the season, but if there is an example that Rayo should follow to stave off a relegation battle, then they should look no further than Alaves.
Los Otros Puntos
‘Espanyol gave the Bernabeu a scare,’ wrote Alfredo Relano in Diario AS; and the Catalans continue to show they mean business under Rubi. Espanyol played a very good game against Real Madrid featuring a mixture of good possession and counter-attacking with pace, their decision-making in the final third however was lacking. Marco Asensio provided the winning touch for Real as his low angled finish shortly before half-time proved enough for Los Blancos.
Without a goal to their name since re-joining the elite of Spanish football, it was only natural that Real Valladolid scored three in one match. Having gone two goals down to Celta Vigo when Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez scored in the early stages, Oscar Plano reduced the deficit before half-time. But soon after the break, Celta had their two-goal advantage back when Aspas scored his second. Enes Unal’s goal in the 65th minute appeared like only a consolation but Leonardo Suarez ensured that Valladolid got their third draw of the season with an equaliser in the 95th minute.
Eusebio Sacristan has celebrated many goals at the Camp Nou in the past – the former Barcelona midfielder won four La Liga titles at the club – but few will have felt as good as the two he saw his side score against Barcelona on Sunday. Cristhian Stuani’s two goals early in the second-half were enough to give Girona a share of the points following an intriguing match in which Clement Lenglet’s first-half red card rather surprisingly seemed to improve the performance of both sides.
What’s that saying? Anything Alaves can do, Sevilla can do better.
Huesca 0–1 Real Sociedad
Rayo Vallecano 1–5 Alaves
Celta Vigo 3–3 Real Vallodolid
Eibar 1–0 Leganes
Getafe 0–2 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid 1–0 Espanyol
Levante 2–6 Sevilla
Villarreal 0–0 Valencia
Real Betis 2–2 Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona 2–2 Girona