Drama follows Rayo Vallecano everywhere and 2012-13 looks as though it won’t desert them just yet. The madness at Vallecas on the final day of last season will live long in the memory of La Liga fans everywhere, as messages from the bench went across to Granada players who allowed Rayo to score and stay up. A pitch invasion ensued and everyone’s ‘second team’ partied like only they could.
Jose Ramon Sandoval fought every battle that Rayo have had in recent years from the frontline, and despite his excellent work he was moved on. In comes the talented Paco Jemez from Cordoba, and with his desire to see his teams play attractive football it will be an interesting transition from recent years. The energy and work ethic will remain, but Jemez wants to see Rayo use the ball more intelligently and be less naive with their high-line defence.
The situation Rayo find themselves in financially is well known, and it became even more apparent over the summer as main man Michu moved on to Swansea City, Alejandro Arribas went to Osasuna too, a key figure in the centre of defence, while the raft of Atletico Madrid loanees went back. Lass, Jose Casado and Javi Fuego remain however, players that were expected to be subject of much interest, and will be needed more than ever in a squad that remains thin. Incomings have been few, with loans and free transfers the trend. Jordi Amat arrived for a season from Espanyol, while Alex Galvez and Adrian Gonzalez were both free from Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander respectively.
These are testing times for many clubs in Spain and Rayo are leading the pack. With little to no money available the cantera will be called upon, as Jemez declared himself in his first Press conference. Nearly everyone will want Rayo to stay up, the atmosphere their supporters generate and exciting football are much ado to this notion, but this time the task looks far bigger than before. Who will be their Michu this time around isn’t clear, probably because there frankly isn’t one.
The difference maker – Lass Bangoura
The Guinean exploded onto the La Liga scene last season with his directness, pace, trickery and work ethic. Many clubs descended to Vallecas to give him a closer look and were suitably impressed, with Valencia and Atletico Madrid just two of the clubs wanting to take advantage of Rayo’s financial situation. In Rayo’s counter-attacks he is swift and dangerous, bringing some unpredictability for defenders to contend with. This season he’ll need to develop even quicker, and especially provide more goals.
Best signing – Nicki Bille Nielsen
A tough customer in the Segunda Division for some time, the Danish striker will look to fill the hole left by Raul Tamudo and provide some presence around the penalty area. He puts himself about and will look to get in defenders’ faces, but the step from Segunda to Primera is a huge one he must navigate.
His time? The cantera
Not one player, but a whole group of them. Jemez will look to promote from within and has no fear in handing responsibility to younger players as he did with Cordoba. It’s an exciting time to be in Rayo’s cantera right now, with plenty of chances around the corner.
Coach – Paco Jemez
Jemez experienced great success with Cordoba last season, exceeding expectations by guiding the Andalucian club to a play-off position. They were defeated to eventual winners Real Valladolid and it was with no shame, as Jemez and his young team did superbly. He will look to get his 4-2-3-1 into motion at Rayo, depending heavily on the exchanges in central midfield in the pivot. Fast, direct players in wide areas too, all while looking to achieve a fluid system.
The big question…
Can they survive another relegation battle? Rayo are not deceiving themselves and they know once again they’ll be in the thick of any battle to avoid the drop. They need to get maximum points in front of their home crowd where they unfortunately stuttered last season, and try to achieve some consistency that evaded them previously.
Probable line-up: RUBEN, Casado, GALVEZ, Labaka, Tito; Javi Fuego, Trashorras; JOSE CARLOS, Lass, Piti, NICKI BILLE
IN: Nicki Bille (a, Villareal), Adrian Gonzalez (m, Racing), Jose Carlos (m, AEK), Jordi Amat (d, Espanyol), Alex Galvez (d, Sporting), Ruben (gk, Malaga)
OUT: Joel, Pulido, Diego Costa (Atletico), Pacheco (Liverpool), Arribas, Armenteros (Osasuna), Tamudo (Pachuca), Michu (Swansea)