Football

Rayo Vallecano's survival is a triumph for attractive football

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On January 26, a 4-2 home defeat at the hands of Atlético Madrid left Rayo Vallecano in 19th place in La Liga.

Having amassed a paltry 16 points from the first 21 games of the season, Paco Jémez's side looked bereft of the quality needed to survive again in La Liga, let alone top the previous season's eighth-place finish.

Heading into the clash with Athletic Bilbao 14 games later, Rayo supporters could hardly hide their jubilation at the side's run of games which had seen them pick up 27 points and climb to 10th in the table.

The Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas stadium, situated in Madrid, was transformed into an incredible toilet roll waterfall, with cascades of toilet paper thrown onto the pitch in celebration of Rayo's success. Although Rayo succumbed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic, supporters of both sides were able to celebrate their side's respective seasons.

Rayo's transformation and subsequent survival in La Liga is a triumph for attractive football. With an average possession stat of 58% - second only to pass-masters Barcelona - Rayo are a shining example of how it is still possible for a less-glamourous side to dominate possession.

This is by no means meant as a derogatory statement, but rather an indication of the budget Rayo have to contend with every season - far less than Real Madrid's. 

Therefore Rayo have to be shrewd in the transfer market. Mohamed Diamé left to join Wigan in the 09/10 season, whilst Michu joined Swansea in 12/13 and most recently Atlético parted with over £6 million for Leo Baptistão.

Rayo will be kicking themselves at the clauses which allowed both Diamé and Michu to leave for fractions of their current market prices, although to put into perspective just how small Rayo's budget is, the combined sales of the two players represented more than half of the €7 million season budget.

The sale of Baptistão allowed Rayo to purchase Saúl Ñíguez on loan from Atlético, Alberto Bueno from Real Valladolid, Joaquín Larrivey from Atalanta and Jonathan Viera on loan from Valencia, whilst former Premier League discards Rubén Rochina, Razvan Rat and Iago Falqué arrived from Blackburn, West Ham and Tottenham respectively.     

The policy of loaning and transferring players on a short-term basis is necessary for Rayo to survive financially and whilst it limits the footballers they can sign, there is a clear model in place for the type of player wanted.

Technique and comfort in possession are requirements for playing for Rayo, which is why a highly-technical player like Rochina - who has spent two seasons away from Blackburn Rovers on loan - has been able to flourish in La Liga.

Ñíguez has particularly impressed this season. The Spanish under-21 international arrived at Rayo from Atlético with limited La Liga experience but has become a central figure in the midfield under Jémez.

Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have all had Ñíguez watched this season, although after signing a contract extension to stay at Atlético in February, he is likely to become a part of Diego Simeone's first-team squad for next season.

Alberto Bueno, highly thought of as a youngster at Real Madrid, is having the best goalscoring season of his carreer, notching 11 goals and registering a further four assists. Back in his hometown after losing his way at Real Valladolid, he has been a key part of Rayo's renaissance, as has top goalscorer Joaquín Larrivey.

Jémez can start planning for next season, with safety ensured and Rayo's reputation as one of the best teams to watch in La Liga further enhanced. He will be aware that money will be tight to improve the squad, but one thing is for certain: no matter who is brought in, Rayo's philosophy will remain the same. Possession is everything. 

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Topics:
La Liga
Football

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