Guillem Balague on Rayo Vallecano's extraordinary form
Guillem Balague analyses the factors contributing to the form of La Liga's surprise package, Rayo.
Last Updated: 29/01/13 8:35am
One of the most pleasant surprises of the La Liga season thus far has been the excellent performances and results of unfancied Rayo Vallecano, who have won four of their last five games to move up to sixth place.
I was at Madrid and I met Rayo coach Paco Jemez. It's a little miracle what Rayo are achieving because they've got the smallest budget in the whole of the Primera Liga.
Seven million euros covers the whole squad - including wages and signings. Despite their relative poverty, they're doing so well in the league this season - and doing it in a way that you don't often associate with small teams.
They pressure high with lots of intensity in everything they do, play a high line, combine when they have the ball while maintaining an option of playing a more direct way and have improved on the pressure side of things. They recover balls early and this allows them to damage the opposition.
Real Betis are of a similar quality even though they have more money, and Rayo beat them 3-0. How they play is very similar to Barcelona... except it's Rayo Vallecano!
The first thing that Jemez had to do when he took control of the club last year was convinced the players that this was the best way to play. He managed this because players love this kind of football - keeping the ball and being protagonist on the pitch.
Jemez is someone you need to keep an eye on. He's very thorough in his work and clear in his ways. He wants to do it that way not because it's attractive to watch, but because you win more games.
If you talk to people who knew Jemez as a player, he was a tough centre-back so it's been an interesting change for him.
Much of Rayo's victories have been inspired by 20-year-old forward Leo Baptistao, who has won admirers up and down Spain for his imaginative and incisive work on and off the ball.
Baptistao, in my eyes, has already signed for Atletico Madrid for next season but interestingly for him he doesn't know yet because the club and his father (who looks after him) want him to focus on the job in hand.
It's an interesting story for Baptistao, who used to cross paths as Neymar's rival with their youth teams usually meeting in the finals of competitions. A friend of his father got him trials in Spain but nobody wanted to keep him because he needed a house and no clubs risked the money.
When Jemez saw Baptistao this summer, he saw he was very raw and the progression this season has surprised everybody - even manager and player themselves.
Jémez welcomes coaches from Britain if they want to see Rayo train. Just contact the club and they will allow you to watch training and then talk to Jémez. What an opportunity!
Guillem answers your questions...
Got a question for Guillem? Then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the feedback form below, and then look out for his answer next week.
How much pressure do you think is on Florentino Perez this summer with the Real Madrid elections?. If they fail to win the Champions League, do you think the fans will want him back in as president? I heard the other day that Frank Rijkaard got sacked from Saudi Arabia. His career has gone downhill since he left Barca - can you ever see him managing in the Premier League with Chelsea or City? David Fullam (Liverpool fan)
GUILLEM REPLIES: Perez still has a stronghold within the fanbase. They still see him as a big figure and it would have to be someone of a similar stature to face him. There's a group of former players who are rumoured to be the opposition, but they are keeping quiet at the moment.
As for Rijkaard, his career shows that as long as he's at a club with a positive dynamic, he can take them places but there comes a point where his easy-going laid-back approach damages the discipline at the club, as we saw at Barcelona. I think he'll go to national teams now. He's done a lot as a player and a manager and maybe doesn't have the hunger any more.
I love the column and your new Pep Guardiola book, which I couldn't put down until I finished it. Upon hearing of his appointment as Bayern Munich's new coach, one of the first questions I had was whether he could successfully manage players like Robben and Ribery? Do you think he has learned enough from his falling outs with Eto'o and Ibrahimovic to get, in the long-term, the best out of players who are a little more ego-driven on his side? Memo Valdez (Barcelona fan)
GUILLEM REPLIES: Pep wanted to make Messi the focal point of the team and he doesn't have that situation at Bayern Munich. It's more of a collective team in which everybody understands their roles and it's more a question of Pep adapting to that rather than vice versa. At Barca, because he wanted to make Messi the centre, some players were not needed at the club. In some cases he blanked them, in some he tried to explain (Ronaldinho), and in some he tried to do both.
COUT IN THE ACT
Great blog as always. As a Liverpool fan, I just wanted to get your opinion on Coutinho the Brazilan, a player you'll obviously know well from his time at Espanyol last season. Do you think his time in Spain helped him to develop as a player? And if he was to sign for us how good do you think he could potentially be having been once called 'the future of Inter,' by Rafa Benitez? Peter Smith (Liverpool fan)
GUILLEM REPLIES: I'm excited by Coutinho possibly going to Liverpool because he has that magic ability to create out of nothing. He still keeps the ball too long, is too individualistic and is injury prone, but if Inter are ready to let him go then it's because they are unable to capitalise on his ability. He has a lot of potential and has made it very clear that he wants to go to Liverpool. He sees it as the next step of his development and will play as a false left-winger as he will come inside lots and let the likes of Jose Enrique overlap.
REIN TO SET IN?
I just wanted to ask with Victor Valdes wanting to leave Barcelona and Liverpool's goalkeeper Pepe Reina wanting a move back to Spain at some point in his career, do you see this as a great opportunity for both clubs in organising a player exchange deal in the summer? Both players will get what they want in the end and neither club will suffer as personally I rate them both equally. Ricky W (Liverpool fan)
GUILLEM REPLIES: I don't think Reina is the type of goalkeeper Barcelona are looking for. They're looking for a player who is between 23-27, who has established a name for himself with certain experience. It may be a swap deal with other goalkeepers, but not with Reina.
MOUR ON THIS LATER
My question is that because there's a big chance that Mourinho won't be at Madrid next season, a question pops up.... Where will he go next? What's his next possible destination for you? Will he try to achieve more glory in different leagues, possibly to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, igniting an old rivalry with Guardiola. Or will he land back to the Premier League? Maybe succeeding Ferguson at the United Dugout, having a war of words with Roberto Mancini or someone. Saludos Cordiales. Fraz Bari (Espanyol fan)
GUILLEM REPLIES: We will deal with Perez calling a recent Marca cover a 'lie' and the fall-out from that - with all the resulting questions raised. There are also rumours that some players want to leave Real Madrid if Mourinho stays. Answers on Revista...