Villarreal go into Madrid’s Vallecas neighborhood tomorrow knowing that whatever happens, their position in the league table is not likely to change. However, if you thought that would make this game meaningless, think again. A Villarreal win would put us at the bottom of a group of 11 teams with between 13 and 17 points. A loss or draw would leave us marooned as part of a smaller, five-team group that looks to be already playing more to avoid relegation than anything else. And that is without even considering the future of Villarreal’s coach Javi Calleja.
Our opponents: Rayo Vallecano are one of the classic yo-yo teams in Spanish football; they have spent 39 seasons in the Segunda or Segunda B versus 18 in la Liga. They were first promoted to the Primera in 1977, and since then it’s happened 6 more times, with their longest stay in the top flight lasting only five seasons, from 2011-16.
Rayo’s supporters are well-known for their passion for leftist causes as well as their club; collecting money to pay a mortgage for an elderly woman about to be evicted, leading protests against Javier Tebas and his attempts to internationalize la Liga and play matches at ridiculous times, or kit with rainbow flags....well, you get the idea. Their ground is unique in La Liga, as behind one end there is no room for fans and there’s only a high wall separating the ground from the apartment towers behind.
This year’s Rayo team: Coach Michel (not to be confused withe the former Rayo, Olympiacos, and Malaga coach Michel) has a number of players you may remember from other clubs: Jordi Amat (Espanyol, Swansea), Gorka Elustondo (Real Sociedad), Gael Kakuta (Chelsea youth, then pretty much everywhere), Oscar Trejo (Gijon, Mallorca). Even Javi Guerra, ex-Valladolid. And Lass Bangoura and Bebé are still around from when they were in the Primera before.
Goals have been hard to come by: Raúl de Tomás has 3 to lead them. The defense has been sketchy, giving up multiple goals in 4 of their last 5 matches. They’re coming off an inspired performance versus Barcelona where they led 2-1 after 86 minutes only to lose 3-2.
Villarreal connection: Well, he apparently isn’t making the trip and has hardly played for them, but Chechu Dorado joined them after leaving Villarreal in 2015 and was a key player in the back for them in the Segunda.
Trivia: Did you know that Queen played one of the last concerts of their 1986 “Magic Tour” at the Rayo ground? Yup, one of the last times the original four members of the group played together.
All-time record: We actually haven’t played Rayo all that much in the Primera, and our record is pretty good. Villarreal are 9-2-3 overall, and 4-1-2 in Vallecas. You might remember that even in our relegation season, we defeated Rayo twice! However, we’ve lost the last two visits, 2-0 in February 2015 and 2-1 in April 2016.
Prediction: I have no confidence that we’ll win. I don’t think we’ll lose. My head says it will be another 1-1 draw, given that Villareal have not won in 6 league matches and Rayo not in 9. But I have to think somehow our quality will eventually show and we will win this, let’s say 2-1. If we don’t win, stay tuned for the coaching change.