La Liga Review: Spirited Showings offer New Boys Hope

La Liga Review: Spirited Showings offer New Boys Hope
Alex Wrigley
Alex Wrigley
August 27, 2018
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Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.

The general consensus heading into the new season in La Liga was that all three newly promoted teams were likely to struggle with none of the trio investing heavily. To make matters worse, Huesca saw their promotion winning coach depart over the summer while Real Valladolid lost the player who scored nearly half of their goals last term. Therefore all the teams headed into the top flight with a mixture of both excitement and trepidation.

The opening weekend brought an impressive win for Huesca in their first ever top flight game away to fellow minnows Eibar. However the other two promoted clubs failed to make anything like such a positive first impression. Rayo Vallecano saw their relegation odds slashed after a dreadful defensive showing saw them lose 4-1 at home to Sevilla. Real Valladolid meanwhile put in a more determined performance but failed to show any kind of attacking threat in a 0-0 draw with Girona, to only add weight to the theory that scoring goals would be a big problem for them at this level. Match-day two saw both clubs face stern tests with Real Valladolid hosting Barcelona while Rayo travelled to Atletico Madrid. It seemed almost inevitable that both matches would turn out to be pretty one-sided affairs but what actually transpired offers real hope to both clubs moving forward.

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Barca toil on dodgy Valladolid pitch

There was only one goal at the Estadio José Zorrilla but a host of talking points, the first of which centred around the dreadful state of the Real Valladolid pitch. Even before the game, Barca had raised concerns having lost on their previous visit to Valladolid several years previously on a poor playing surface. The newly promoted side had only relayed the pitch in the days leading up to their first home match back in La Liga but from virtually the first kick, it was clear that they’d done a pretty poor job of it, with huge chunks of turf becoming dislodged. La Liga have launched an investigation with all parties seemingly agreed that it wasn’t fit to stage top flight football.

It was also the first game to really highlight the difference VAR could make in La Liga with the game’s two big moments both subject to reviews. Barcelona’s goal scored by Ousmane Dembele was given after video replays suggested Sergi Roberto had just kept the ball in play in the act of setting up the Frenchman. However the Catalans faced a nervous wait as Keko fired home for Real Valladolid in the 93rd minute. It was another very marginable call but according to VAR, the midfielder was just off-side and the underdogs were denied the equaliser that their efforts in the game arguably deserved.

While the pitch was unquestionably a leveller and led to Barcelona playing in a far more direct fashion than usual, there was still plenty to admire about the Valladolid performance. They played with real energy from top to bottom, virtually negating the threat of Leo Messi with another performance that showed they have some defensive foundations from which to build. There were also positive signs in attack with loan signing Enes Unal impressing on his debut and if he can deliver on his undoubted promise this season, Valladolid may just have a player who can provide some genuine quality in the final third, which may make all the difference in the final equation.

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Rayo unlucky to lose at the Wanda

If Barcelona could at least point to the pitch as an excuse for the surprisingly even game in Valladolid, it was a different story for Atletico Madrid who were fortunate to win 1-0 at home to city rivals Rayo Vallecano. According to the Expected Goals stats, if anyone deserved to win the game, it was the visitors, with Atleti surprisingly lacking in any sort of cutting edge against a team that had been torn to shreds by Sevilla just six days previously.

We have seen Atleti grind out 1-0 wins on so many occasions in recent years, we should perhaps not be surprised but it never felt like a forgone conclusion that they would find the breakthrough and perhaps more worryingly, Rayo regularly looked like they might nick a goal with a surprisingly edgy defensive display in the latter stages from Atletico Madrid.

The right-back position looks like a bit of a problem for Atleti following the departure of Šime Vrsaljko and again Diego Godin wasn’t quite his usual assured self having been partly responsible for Atleti conceding in Valencia on Monday night. With left-back Filipe Luís also being linked with a move away, there are for once a few doubts about Atleti’s defence but for Rayo, it was a vastly improved performance.

Defensively they were far more organised with a more sensible 4-1-4-1 approach. There is a huge gulf in class between the Segunda Division and the top flight and they were naive at times against Sevilla but seem to have quickly learnt their lesson. To go to the Wanda Metropolitano and have more shots and more possession than Atletico Madrid takes some doing and it was a performance that suggests it won’t be long before they do record their first point back at this level.

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A Blueprint for Survival?

It can take newly promoted teams in any league in the world time to adapt to playing against better sides every week but this Saturday offered both Rayo Vallecano and Real Valladolid a blueprint for survival following on from pretty unconvincing starts.

Even when they were an established top flight club, Rayo were known for their inability to defend and the opening weekend suggested it would be a major issue again. However with the returning Jordi Amat moving to centre-back and with Gorka Elustondo in the holding midfield role, they looked far more balanced and tougher to break down. Amat is an experienced defender now and has spent virtually his whole career in either the English or Spanish top flight so it’s a bit of a coup for Rayo to get him back and they’d be wise to build their defence around him rather than play him out of position. There hasn’t been a lot wrong with their midfield play and they have created chances against two good sides and with last season’s top scorer Raúl de Tomás now returning on loan, they look to have enough quality to cause problems for most teams in La Liga.

Valladolid won’t play against Barcelona every week but the level of performance they put in on Saturday would have been enough to beat many sides. Maintaining those levels of energy and commitment across the season, in less glamorous fixtures, will be key to their chances of survival. Their pre-season survival prospects looked pretty bleak but they have started to address the need for more attacking quality by bringing in the likes of Unal and Daniele Verde. Valladolid boss Sergio seemed to find the right balance on Saturday evening with a solid structure that disrupted Barca’s flow but he also named two strikers and resisted the urge to park the bus, which tends to be the way the smaller sides go when they play the big guns.

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