As we go hurtling towards the winter break in La Liga, the last but one round of league fixtures is upon us.
That said, this is actually Real’s last league action of 2018 because of their appearance in the Club World Cup.
It’s a Madrid derby of sorts, and one of Rayo Vallecano’s least favourite fixtures.
Of the last 10 matches between the sides, dating back to 2011, Los Blancos have won all 10, and the last of those at the Santiago Bernabeu ended in a 10-2 victory for the home side!
On that occasion, Rayo were their own worst enemy as then coach Paco Jemez continued to try and take the game to their opponents even when it was clear that damage limitation was the order of the day.
Once again, Rayo don’t find themselves in the best of positions this season, but at least under the tutelage of Michel, they’ve gone down fighting in a number of their matches.
Against Barcelona for example, they were the better side for virtually the entire game, but two late goals for the Catalans saw them miss out on what would’ve been a crucial three points.
Their problem, as with so many teams that manage to make their way into the top flight, is one of quality. There’s little doubt that Rayo have the drive and energy but missing that little bit extra has been the difference between winning and losing this season.
In some cases (2-2 draws against Villarreal, Leganes, Espanyol and Real Sociedad), just a visit from Lady Luck might have swung the balance in their favour.
In such a cavernous stadium, with a wider pitch then they’re used to and against a team of internationals, Rayo would do well not to be run ragged.
One player who would’ve been a real thorn in Real’s side is Raul de Tomas, Rayo’s front man and top scorer, on loan from Los Blancos. In a match where he would’ve had much to prove to his parent club, Florentino Perez has decided to exercise the ‘fear clause’ in his loan contract, meaning that he will be unable to showcase his talent. Given his personal form, that’s a wise move on Perez’s part.
Alvaro Garcia loves working the left-hand channel, but against a revitalised Dani Carvajal, he’ll need to spend the vast majority of the match concerning himself with defensive cover where required. Ditto Adrian Embarba.
With no supply line comes no goals, whilst at the other end, Real have pace and power to trouble their visitors in the shape of Bale, Asensio, Benzema and Vinicius – perm two from those four to start, with the other pair making cameo appearances later on.
A convincing win is long overdue at the Bernabeu, and Rayo have always been the most obliging of opponents having conceded at least five on their last three visits. A 5-0 win at 14/1 is very good value with Ladbrokes.
Given that this is the final time the locals will see their heroes before the Club World Cup escapades, we can be fairly certain that the Bernabeu will be bouncing.
Supporters will want to give Real the best possible send off, and the positive energy that the team will get from their ‘12th man’ can’t be downplayed.
Whilst Solari will insist on a business-like performance as opposed to a showboating one, the players will be up for something special.
On the front foot from the off, if Real are able to isolate Rayo’s defensive midfield lynchpin, Santiago Comesana, there’ll be easy pickings against the static centre-back pairing of Jordi Amat and Alejandro Galvez.
With so many quick and skilful players in their ranks, Real Madrid are going to make inroads deep into Rayo territory as quickly as possible.
Whether a tactical foul or otherwise, a free-kick or two will go the hosts way, and thanks to the spectacular accuracy of Toni Kroos’ delivery, the German should be able to pick out one of his colleagues with ease.
Sergio Ramos is an obvious target, and no matter how hard opposition teams try, many often fail to pick up the Los Blancos captain from set pieces.
Should Rayo manage to limit his influence in such a scenario, Karim Benzema or Raphael Varane could take advantage, as both have the height and physicality to ensure a good headed connection.
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