Rayo Vallecano became the first team to be relegated from La Liga this season as they succumbed to a 4-1 defeat away at Levante. It came as little surprise that Rayo’s fate was sealed away from home as they have struggled away from Vallecas all season, picking up just 10 points on the road all season and owning the divisions worst away record.
There was hope heading into the game for the team from Madrid however. A week on from Rayo’s famous victory against city rivals Real, a trip to Valencia to face a Levante side with just 1 win in 11 previous games seemed to be the perfect opportunity to delay their relegation to the Segunda Division at the very least.
This tactical analysis will show how Levante won the fixture against Rayo Vallecano.
Levante set up from the start in a 4-1-4-1 system, designed to stifle Rayo’s slow build up and threat from the flanks, similar to the way they frustrated Barcelona in the previous match day. Width came primarily from the wing backs Coke and Tono as Jason and Jose Luis Morales played as inverted wingers in order to create overloads within the midfield with Nikola Vukcevic screening the defence and triggering Levante’s counter-attacks. Rayo set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation on paper, switching to a 4-5-1 in defence. Using a slower build up with Mario Suarez dropping between the centre backs to create a triangle meant that Rayo were able to bypass Levante’s first press from Borja Mayoral fairly easily. However, it became difficult when they had to contend with a deeper block and were restricted to long-range shots at various times throughout the first half with a third of their 20 shots in the game coming from outside the box.
Rayo‘s First Half Errors
Despite looking very comfortable on the ball and boasting 59% of the possession in the first half, Rayo’s gung-ho approach and need to commit players high up the pitch caused huge issues for themselves despite only having to contend with a single Levante forward in Mayoral and Campana and Morales drifting around the front man in support. The first goal for the hosts came from Rayo committing too many bodies forward, allowing Mayoral to advance from within his own half before working the ball wide. The eventual low cross into the box was scuffed by Abdoulaye Ba directly into the path of Campana who slammed home from close range. The quickfire counters from Levante did prove to be fruitful throughout as they took twice as many shots on target as their opponents and a superior xG score of 2.3 vs 1.5.
Paco Jemez’s famous reluctance to defend has worked relatively well at various points during his two spells at Rayo. However, since taking over from the departing Michel back in March the lack of defensive discipline has cost them dear in key fixtures which could have prevented their relegation, namely surrendering a lead in a 2-1 defeat at Eibar. This lack of discipline was on display again as Levante doubled their lead just prior to half time thanks to a Ruben Vezo header from a corner. The out-swinging corner was not attacked by any Rayo defenders and Vezo’s free header looped over the head of Alberto into the far corner.
The Attempted Fightback
The second half began well for Rayo after they changed shape at half time, Ba who was at fault for the first goal was replaced by journeyman striker Javi Guerra and this change of shape injected fresh impetus from the first whistle. They dominated the ball for vast periods, resulting in 71% of possession throughout the half, as well as taking the majority of their shots. The additions of the 37-year-old Guerra and midfielder Alvaro Medran proved to be the catalyst for some sort of a Rayo fightback. Guerra dropped deeper into the midfield to link up play, leaving De Tomas to occupy both Levante centre backs with his movement behind the lines and it paid dividends in the 71st minute as a ball into the feet of Guerra in the six-yard box was knocked into the path of Alvaro Garcia who slotted past Aitor.
However, Rayo’s momentum was soon halted by one of their own as Adri Embarba saw red after two quickfire yellow cards. His dismissal was the beginning of the end for the team from Madrid who couldn’t cope with Levante’s intensity with their ten men. Their zonal marking at corners cost them dearly again as Jason flicked home another Campana corner from an almost identical spot to Vezo’s earlier goal. Vallecano’s fate in this match and in La Liga was sealed in stoppage time as Bardhi curved his run behind Mario Suarez before slamming past the unfortunate Alberto.
An unfortunate way for Rayo Vallecano to bow out of the top flight as they perhaps should have favoured a more pragmatic style. Whilst the dynamism and attacking intent of wing backs Moreno and Tito provided an attacking threat for the visitors, the space they left behind them was gratefully accepted by their Levante counterparts. Furthermore, prior to the introduction of Medran and Guerra, there was very little connection between the team. Whilst the fluidity of the three attacking midfielders did cause problems on occasion, the inability of the base midfielders to advance the ball through the thirds meant that the attackers were starved of any real service.
On the other hand, Levante’s patient approach bore fruit in the end with a result which preserved their La Liga status. The movement and finesse of Jose Campana was crucial in their victory as he linked play between Mayoral and the rest of the Levante team. The unsung quarterback Vukcevic provided the perfect platform through his industry for the flair players to put Rayo to the sword and help Levante live to fight another year.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the April issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.