Win this one for the Bambino. Please. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Sr. Roig had already said the result of this match won't decide Juan Carlos Garrido's future with the club, and now that Giuseppe Rossi is out for the rest of the year, the fanbase, the players, the coaching staff, and the ownership are going to need to readjust their perspectives. Remaining in the Primera while developing young talent like Hernán Pérez and Wakaso Mubarak needs to be the priority now, and picking up our second home win of the season(!) against Rayo Vallecano would be a good start.
The good news is that unlike Levante, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Napoli, the Lightning Bolts aren't near or at the top of the table. But like those teams, they are coming in on a hot streak. They've defeated Real Betis (away) and Málaga (at home) in their last two matches, and come in having lost only one of five away fixtures to date.
Many of you may not know much about Rayo, so to give us something to take our minds off all the bad news and ill luck, we present:
Rayo Vallecano: A Brief History
This is Rayo's first year in the Primera since the 2002-03 season. They're sometimes thought of as another "Madrid-area team", but if you ask any Rayo supporter, they are from Vallecas (which they tend to pronounce Vallekas, by the way)-- now a suburb of Madrid, but until 1950 it was an independent town.
Vallecas has always been a working-class area, a hotbed of protest against the Franco regime during the dictatorship, and the team has politically active fans. Even today, it's home to anti-establishment ska-punk group Ska-P, who have recorded a couple of songs in honor of Rayo, including this catchy one.
Which makes the tale of the team's ownership even more strange. The club has been around since 1926, but from 1991 to 2011, the club was owned by the Ruiz Mateos family, who made their fortune under Franco and were big contributors to right-wing, nationalist, Franco-approved organizations. However, in the early 1980's their Rumasa business empire was expropriated for failure to pay taxes, though in true Spanish fashion the holding company was later reorganized and "Nuevo Rumasa" continued much along the same lines as before.
Of course, creative accounting, failure to pay taxes, and in fact spending several years in jail isn't viewed by the Spanish football authorities as a reason to deny someone their God-given right to run a football team, so in 1991 Rayo was added to the Nuevo Rumasa holdings! During this time, the team was a classic yo-yo club, spending much of the 1990s in the bottom reaches of the Primera, dropping as far as the Segunda B between 2004 and 2008.
With a highest-ever finish of 9th in the 1999-2000 season (which earned Rayo their only place in Europe, as they went out in the quarters of the UEFA Cup the next year), Rayo haven't had a lot of successes, but their fan base is passionate. Unfortunately, last year this passion was divided between supporting the club and demanding President Maria Teresa Rivero's ouster.
Nuevo Rumasa was placed in bankruptcy last spring, as it couldn't pay taxes or its banks, while at Rayo the players were seldom, if ever, being paid--which didn't stop President Rivero from criticizing them for failing to play like professionals. The fans responded by marching to her house, tearing her name off the stadium (which she had renamed for herself) and so on, and in May she sold the team to a Madrid businessman, Raúl Martín Presa. Unfortunately, one of the first things he did was to take the club into voluntary bankruptcy, and fans and players held strikes during the first few days of preseason training demanding the players be paid. You can't make this stuff up.
Here is a report from Nicholas Rigg on his visit to the Rayo ground, which gives you some sense of the club. Most observers (including me) expected they'd struggle in the Primera, but so far they are doing quite well.
Trivia bits: USMNT goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller (did you know he was born on an egg farm?) played for Rayo for two years (1999-2001), while current Villarreal player Javier Camuñas made 17 appearances for Rayo in the 2002-2003 season, including against Villarreal the last time these teams met. On that occasion, Villarreal won 2-1, the winning goal scored by the late Antonio de Nigris; the Villarreal club that day included Pepe Reina in goal, Sergio Ballesteros and Javi Venta (as a sub), and Martin Palermo up front.
Last year, Rayo defeated our B team twice, 3-0 at Vallecas and 2-1 at the Mini Estadi. Pérez and Gerard Bordas played in the latter game.
Here is a quick chat Sid, Ravi and I had about the game a couple of days ago. Duration: 9min.
Formations and key players:
Rayo typically play a 4-2-3-1 in front of keeper Dani Giménez.
Defense: Tito, Javi Arribas and Jordi Figueres have been constants back there. and young Brazilian Pedro Botelho took the final place against Málaga, so he may again. They've given up 11 goals so far, but 6 of those came against Real Madrid in the Bernabéu. Levante is the only other team to score two against them.
Midfield: Jose María Movilla and Javi Fuego are the holding midfielders. Movilla is 36 now, but still a little spark plug in the center of the pitch. The attacking trio consists of Piti, Michu--who leads them with three goals scored--and Lass--that's another Lass, Guinean national Lassane Bangoura, a youngster who is probably Rayo's best young talent.
Off the bench, there are a couple of guys you will have heard of. Remember Roberto Trashorras, who scored the disputed penalty to put us out of the Copa del Rey under Ernesto Valverde? He's here, still a decent attacking midfielder. And so too is Dani Pacheco, who is technically still owned by Liverpool but was loaned to Atlético Madrid--who have an option to buy him at the end of the year--who loaned him to Rayo. Confused? I am.
Striker: Pacheco can play there, but the guy up top has often been 34-year old Raul Tamudo, all-time Espanyol goal scorer. He's notched up two for Rayo so far this season. And then there's well-traveled Sergio Koke, trying to settle back in Spain after leaving Houston Dynamo and MLS.
All in all, a team of competent players with a little experience and flair here and there. They score a few, they give up a few, but they keep things pretty tight.
Villarreal: With the injury to Rossi, and a CL tie against Man City in midweek, it's hard to know how we'll line up and with whom. But it's great to see Ángel included in the team list for the first time since his injury. Here's the call:
Keepers: Diego López and César.
Defenders: Mario, Zapata, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Ángel and Catalá.
Midfielders: Bruno, Marcos Senna, Borja Valero, De Guzmán, Hernán Pérez, Cani, Camuñas and Wakaso.
Attackers: Marco Ruben and Gerard.
What I'd like to see (written before the team call was published): a 4-3-3 with Ruben flanked by Pérez and Joselu up top, Bruno, Cani and Borja in the middle, and a back four of Mario, Zapata, Musacchio, and Oriol in front of Diego López.
What I expect to see: 4-4-2 with Ruben and Camunas, Bruno, Borja, de Guzmán and Cani, and Zapata, Musacchio, Gonzalo and Catalá in front of López. Though I think Garrido will want Gonzalo to play in the CL, so maybe he brings in Marchena (or maybe not, depending on the fallout from the police report in Valencia yesterday). Or Mario, and then gets some minutes for Ángel toward the end?
But, we could even see Garrido's favorite formation of late, the yawn-inducing 4-2-3-1 (though Ruben as the single striker doesn't make sense to me) or Sidarth's favorite, the 5-5-0 or 4-6-0 or whatever it was that we played for the last half-hour against Real Madrid.
Regardless of what formation we play, I think what ultimately determines the outcome of the match is perhaps the mood and confidence of the club, rather than any tactical tinkering. We played well for most of the game against Man City, then conceded the late goal, and against Levante we were never in the match after the first goal.
Real Madrid came out and absolutely smoked us in the opening 15 minutes. It didn't matter what formation we were in, it was brutal. After that, we settled down and at least practiced damage control over the last hour. But now we find out we have lost Rossi for the rest of the season. How will the team respond?