This is post seven of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.
Our favourite fictional publication theangrylinesmen is back, but this time it’s not recently converted Rayista Carl Hagedorn with the pen in hand. It’s his colleague Jonathan Simpson, a stats-driven writer from the Spanish football desk.
7 January 2024
It’s not often we pause mid-season for an analytical article, but a trio of recent headlines early in the 23/24 campaign for Rayo Vallecano have forced our hand here at theangrylinesmen. It seems something special is brewing in the ‘poor but proud’ outskirts of Madrid.
Since 48-year old Fernando Teixidó took the Rayo reins in the August of 2020 after a couple of seasons in Bolivia in charge of The Strongest, the wider media paid little notice. The relatively unknown manager’s unveiling did cause a few ripples as he spelled out his philosophy, “humility, integrity and nobility,” which had the typically divisive Bukaneros rocking and applauding at the press conference; but the excitement was mostly confined to that evening, and only for those who were there in the flesh, caught up in the moment.
Often football managers are the protagonists of their own dreamland, and it would have been entirely fair to dismiss the Peruvian’s words as hyperbole.
Then came the substance.
A tight promotion as champions of LaLiga 2 in his first season in charge, followed by a 6th then 7th place finish in LaLiga suddenly propelled Rayo Vallecano into the same bracket as the Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Athletic Clubs of Spanish football. Nowhere near the magnitude (or financial power!) of Barcelona and Rayo’s city rivals Real and Atléti of course, but rather not miles behind Sevilla and Valencia. Around those lower continental qualification places. Certainly top half material, on the pitch at least.
Today is the 7th of January 2024 and currently Rayo Vallecano sit 5th in LaLiga, incredibly having lost only two of their opening nineteen fixtures so far this season. They have amassed 33 points against an ‘expected points’ tally of 28 based on performances so far, but don’t let that be the fly in the ointment. Draws have been a curse as they have tied nine games and won eight, but it has been an incredible start to the season for the team with the 16th highest salary commitment of the 20 teams in the division.
Throw in that Rayo have been groundsharing with neighbours Getafe all year, and will continue to do so until their new 25,000 seater stadium is ready in 2026, and it’s something of a miracle that Teixidó has Rayo pushing anywhere near in the right direction.
Add in a 9-0 (yes, nine-nil) destruction of poor Panadería Pulido in the first round of the Copa del Ray, plus progression to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League after finishing top of a group featuring AZ and Dnipro-1, and you’ll find all the elements of a memorable campaign.
While we at theangrylinesmen are the first to recognise how fickle football can be, progression at the Vallecas club feels worth writing about.
Fellow 2021 promotion buddies Almería have arguably performed even better since also moving to the top tier three years ago, but being considerably backed by wealthy foreign owners (Rayo pay a wage bill 38% of their size), Almería are a different story for a different day.
Texidó’s commitment to attacking play, even in the face of far superior opposition, is brave verging on reckless. His signature 4312 is almost as certain to be witnessed in each Rayo match as hearing his roaring voice from the technical area joined by his equally passionate assistant John Metgod.
As always, I love to get my hands on the statistical data to complement a good story, and there are a few standout numbers about Rayo’s LaLiga campaign so far. Data courtesy of SciSports.
- 550 successful tackles made – Rayo Vallecano have completed 33 more successful tackles this season than any other team in LaLiga. This is only 35 shy of the combined total of successful tackles by their two nearest competitors in 6th and 7th in the table, Sevilla (347) and Valencia (238).
- 333 fouls committed – Rayo Vallecano have committed the 2nd highest number of fouls in LaLiga. While on the surface this may read like a negative, when you consider that they are yet to have a man sent off in this campaign, Teixidó’s aggressive and combative approach is regularly disrupting the opposition, but not to his own team’s detriment.
- 13.3% of chances converted – This is the 3rd highest conversion rate in the division. Only Castellón (14.4%) and Real Sociedad (16.4%) have a better shot conversion rate this season. Consider that Rayo have taken 210 shots as a team, while the other two have attempted only 118 and 146 respectively, and it’s clear that not only are Rayo peppering the goal with attacks regularly, but putting a comparatively good number of those chances away too.
Looking within the Rayo Vallecano ranks themselves, some individual performances merit particular praise. ‘Attacking Contribution’ considers key passes, chances created, assists, shots on target, goals and xG per 90 plus xG per shot. ‘Defensive Performance’ includes interceptions, tackles, and headers won per 90 plus adjusted numbers for tackling and heading success rate. The larger the dot size, the more minutes played.
Hernán De La Fuente has shown incredible prowess at both ends of the pitch as the best performer overall, while midfielder Eden Kartsev, probably best known for his progressive passing, has surprisingly delivered the highest defensive numbers across the team.
Creative midfielder Ömer Beyaz has proved crucial in the final third (3.64 key passes per 90). Striker Felix Platte (11 goals from 8.14 xG) has shown that his tireless work rate is as hugely important as his offensive play, as his defensive statistics largely match the numbers delivered by first-choice centre back Emiliano Velázquez.
Now we’ve hit the exact halfway point of Teixidó’s fourth season in charge of Rayo Vallecano, the key question is if Rayo can keep it up for the rest of the campaign.
The below are three short snippets of recent theangrylinesmen articles relating to those who don la franja. If they don’t convince you why many are choosing the Madrid underdogs to be their ‘second team’, I’m not sure what will.
Jonathan Simpson for theangrylinesmen
“Homeless” Rayo Vallecano slay Barcelona in shock giant-killing
25 November 2023
Rayo Vallecano have defeated Barcelona 2-1 tonight for their first victory over the Catalan side in over twenty years. The Madrid side took all three points on a breezy November evening at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, Rayo’s temporary home while they build their new stadium.
You have to go back to December 2002 to see a plucky Rayo Vallecano side buoyed by a single Jorge Azkoitia goal hang on to defeat Louis van Gaal‘s Blaugrana in a tight 1-0 affair. The Barcelona teamsheet that night included Patrick Kluivert, Javier Saviola and Juan Román Riquelme, and tonight the names were every bit as impressive.
£78million man Jaden Sancho, World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann and Argentine pair Lautaro Martínez and Lionel Messi looked crestfallen as the final whistle blew tonight. The reigning LaLiga champions huffed and puffed to 2.46 xG from 18 attempts at goal, picking up five bookings along the way; while Fernando Teixidó‘s Rayo Vallecano notched on either side of Lautaro Martínez’ penalty to capture the three points.
Although Barcelona shaded possession with 56% of the ball, their 313 completed passes was only 3 more than Rayo’s 310. The key differences tonight were in decision-making and sheer effort. Teixidó’s side were patient, hitting the target with 6 of their 7 attempts on goal (86% accuracy), whereas Barcelona only managed 8 shots on target from their 18 attempts (45%). When Barcelona heads went down in the final minutes, collectively and visibly exasperated as Ansu Fati‘s volley whistled past the stoic Dimitrievski‘s left hand post in the Rayo goal, the Madrid upstarts pushed forward again. When Felix Platte‘s late header hit the back of the net on 94 minutes as Marc-André ter Stegen lay in a crumpled heap, the result was fully deserved.
Barcelona manager Marcelo Gallardo graciously admitted his fellow South American tactician had got the better of him on the day. The ex-River Plate man congratulated Teixidó’s Rayo on the result, but you could see he was seething at his own players’ inability to put Rayo to the sword when they had been on the front foot for most of the game. The Argentine said his Barca players “let the opponents slow the pace and dictate the game in the key moments while we watched.”
What is surely a blip for the mighty Barcelona will go down in history as a heroic milestone for Rayo Vallecano and the vast majority of the sold out 17,393 crowd who were there to witness it.
Alex Mellan for theangrylinesman
La Liga underdogs set to break transfer record for the second time in twelve months
4 January 2024
Exactly one year ago today, the 4th of January 2023, Rayo Vallecano shocked football’s financial analysts by eschewing their shrewd and reportedly “under-invested” label by handing Maccabi Tel Aviv a reported sum of £3.3million for Israeli midfielder Eden Kartsev. Time has proved that smashing their twenty year transfer record (Elvir Bolic cost Rayo £1.8m back in 2003) was a wise choice. The all-action Kartsev is a key cog in the Rayo machine, playing 47 times for the club in the last twelve months, consistently completing over 90% of passes and over 5 successful tackles per game.
Fast forward to this year and Fernando Teixidó is hoping his next significant investment is as impactful as the first. With Hungarian playmaker Zsolt Kalmár moving on to Eibar after a little over two seasons (a £1.6m sale after signing him for just £120k), there was a gap opening up in the squad to compete with the Turkish phenomenon Ömer Beyaz for that ‘number 10’ position in the hole behind the striking pair.
Cast aside as a teenager by boyhood club Benfica, relative minnows Académica Coimbra picked up the then lightweight and nimble left footer Diogo Nascimento on a free transfer. A tough campaign that resulted in relegation to Portugal’s second tier was lit up by the performances of one young man who often took games (and at times his teammates!) by the scruff of the neck single-handedly. 12 months near the foot of the Liga NOS table and 6 months near the top of the tier below, and potential suitors across Europe began to take notice.
A creative technician whose strength defies his 5 foot 6 frame, Diogo is more than just a playmaker. Nascimento is a determined yet composed battler, known as much for his leadership qualities, constantly shouting and directing team mates when not in possession of the ball, as he is for his deft touches and intricate trickery. Rayo Vallecano were more than happy to give Coimbra the £4million required to free him via his release clause.
Another wise (big) investment for the Vallecas club? Only time will tell, but all of the elements are there to suggest so.
Anna Campbell for theangrylinesmen
Rayo beat Real Madrid, Juventus and PSG to “the next Alvaro Morata”
10 January 2024
Alvaro Morata is a striker who divides opinion. In my view, he is never given the credit he deserves. Now 31 years old and still plying his trade at Atlético Madrid, being the selfless striker is often a thankless task. Yet clubs have parted with a combined £157million for Morata’s signature over his career, he has bagged 41 goals in 77 caps for Spain and continues to be a key component of Diego Simeone‘s side.
A striker interested in pulling defenders out of position, wrestling with fullbacks to create space for gifted technicians while still managing to sometimes score himself might not be fashionable, but it is sure as hell effective.
When footage of 16-year old Gaoussou Traoré‘s performances for Huesca‘s youth and then B team surfaced on YouTube, scouts across Europe started to take notice of a striker cut from a similar mould. PSG‘s scout Luca Cattani reportedly demanded that the French giants look at the young Spaniard immediately. Ultimately his muddy boots and combative style was considered too primitive for the bourgeois Parisians. Real Madrid reportedly made an offer for the young prospect via email while Juventus manager Mauricio Pochettino mentioned Traoré by name in a press conference during the summer. He said he liked what he saw.
It wasn’t until “GT,” as he has quickly been dubbed by his teammates, met personally with Fernando Teixidó that a match was made in heaven.
Teixidó is known to be a magnetic figure. All impassioned zeal in the technical area and when facing the media, but quietly sensitive privately, always keen to meet the families and parents of his young players to explain that joining Rayo Vallecano is more than a footballing commitment, it’s a social and moral one too.
A 16-year old Spanish striker of north-west African descent draws immediate and understandable comparisons to be drawn with Barcelona superstar Ansu Fati. The level of potential, playing position and heritage aside however, Gaoussou Traoré is a completely different player.
The Alvaro Morata comparison is more accurate in a footballing sense. Real Madrid veteran Karim Benzema is another.
Can Traoré live up to his early promise? As a £1million capture he certainly represents a low risk move for Rayo.
Personally, I think they’ve unearthed an incredible gem.
Gaoussou Traoré. Remember the name!
Tom Phillips for theangrylinesmen
Thanks for reading.