As the race for top of the table finally appears to be drawing to a close with Real Madrid pulling ahead and finding their stride, the La Liga relegation battle remains in full swing with seven teams within three points of two of the bottom three sides.
Rayo Vallecano earned three vital points to boost their survival hopes as they defeated Real Sociedad 3-2 on Monday night. At the Anoeta, one of La Liga's most difficult stadiums, Rayo kept Sociedad on the back foot for most the match as Paco Jemez's
adventurous tactics worked well against Sociedad's slick passing and wide play.
The match was played at breakneck speed, with a goal for either team within the first four minutes setting the tone. After a reactive period in which both teams were overly cautious after conceding so early, the match began to open back up as both teams began attacking with full force.
Rayo's essentially kamikaze tactics proved a handful for the Sociedad defence as Rayo attacked with at least six players at all times. The Sociedad backline was able to hold strong for the first half and counter attack with rapid passing, mostly finding Chory Castro on the wings to serve in a cross.
However, Rayo's midfield was excellent in their defensive tracking for most of the match and was able to neutralize the counter-attacking threat. Sociedad were able to take the lead just before halftime as Ruben Pardo's shot was deflected, wrong-footing Ruben in the Rayo goal.
After this point, Rayo took control of the game. Rayo's tactics are very similar to those of Liverpool this season: all out attack. Under Jemez, Rayo are notorious for throwing everyone forward and this match was no exception.
However, against Sociedad, the defensive tracking was superb and they were able to cover the holes a strategy such as this normally leaves in their defence (they are in 19th place after all).
Also similarly to Liverpool, Rayo's tactics require great performances from their attackers, and Rayo's front three were truly excellent. Joaquin Larrivey not only earned and converted the early penalty, but his movement opened up space for his wingers and runners from deep in midfield.
He was a general nuisance throughout the match and would have had a second goal but was called offside. Larrivey was not the only star performer for Rayo, as both Alberto Bueno and Ruben Rochina contributed attacking flair, hard work and a goal each.
Granted, Bueno's goal was a fortuitous one as Zubikarai punched a cross off of his own defender which Larrivey flicked on to Bueno for the tap in, but in general Sociedad struggled to cope with the pace of the wingers and in particular the skill of Rochina.
Additionally, Saul showed why so many of Europe's top clubs are interested in securing his services as he marauded forward in possession and distributed effectively. He struggled with the physicality of the game a bit, but at only age 19 that aspect of his game can surely be developed.
Sociedad moved the ball well going forward, but found their way to goal impeded by the recovering Rayo midfield. Castro got to the byline and served in many dangerous
crosses, but neither Agirretxe nor Carlos Vela could find their way to the end of them.
Agirretxe was largely a non-factor, as most of Sociedad's best chances came from either Castro or Vela taking on defenders and distributing. Antoine Griezmann's introduction aided their attacking efforts, but they could only ever produce tame efforts on the Rayo goal.
This match showed that Jemez's tactics are not completely suicidal and, on their night, Rayo can prove a worthy adversary (as Real Madrid discovered earlier in the season).
With their backs against the wall, Rayo showed the character necessary to remain in the top flight and Sociedad were merely overrun. Rayo will need showings such as this for the remainder of the season to ensure survival and Sociedad will need to return to
their top form if they want to return to Europe's top competition next season instead of the Europa League.
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