Back to the awesome little Madrid stadium that is Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas – the one with the wall behind one goal, apartment balconies crammed with fans and, hopefully, with a full set of operating floodlights.
Extra security measures have been taken, as well as lots of extra testing, to ensure that the illumination doesn’t fail tonight.
The last time that Barça played here was the first game after Pep had announced his resignation. I believe that the faster flowing game in the rain which we saw that night, had Tito hallmarks all over it, even though he and Pep had their bums glued to the bench for most of the game – visibly annoyed by all the extra attention from the press photographers who wanted to record every sip of water that Pep took during the game.
Rayo has gone through some changes since last season. They kicked out their outspoken manager Sandoval – even after he had brought Rayo back into the First Division in 2010/11, but the narrow relegation avoidance in 2011/12 was enough for the flakey Vallecano management to bid him adios. Sandoval is now at the helm of Sporting de Gijón.
Managing the team is former Rayo player Paco (a.k.a. Francisco Jémez Martín) who played for Spain for a few years (1998-2001 including Euro 2000) and won a couple of trophies each with Depor and Zaragoza. His management career has been peripatetic – a new club almost every season.
Two danger men have also left the team. Hitman Michu was snapped up by Michael Laudrup and is now firing in goals from all directions for Swansea City in the EPL. On-loan striker, Diego Costa, returned to Atlético de Madrid where he is showing great form and support on the left wing.
Notable newcomers for the Franjirrojos include GK Rubén (on loan from Málaga and now Rayo’s #1 over David Cobeño), Jordi Amat (on loan from RCD Espanyol), and La Masia graduate Rodri who has returned to Spain after a season at Spartak Moscow.
Argentinian “Chori” is also at the club after an interesting last season. Not wanted by Valencia, he returned home to play on-loan for relegated River Plate and was received as a long-lost son by the fans. However, Plate’s management would not negotiate his permanent transfer, so he returned to Spain where Rayo offered him an attractive deal. Part of the attraction was that Rayo’s kit is similar to that worn by River Plate!
Young 20yo Brazilian Léo Baptistão has been promoted from Vallecano B to play for the senior team, so look out for him. In his 7 appearances, he’s potted 4 goals.
What about our boys?
After exciting games vs. Depor and Celtic, could we please have a little less excitement tonight? Thanks. My heart would appreciate it. However, I do have to say that I am really loving the season so far, with all its unpredictability and last-gasp wins.
Barça is looking to keep its no-loss record intact, and for the 5th away win for the season – a big improvement on how last season was going at the same time, even though the team has conceded as many goals as it took until January 2012 to give away.
Still on the injury list are Puyol, Piqué, Thiago, Cuenca, Abidal and Muniesa.
Red-carded out of this game is Mascherano, and sitting on 4 Yellows is Busquets.
Team line-up: Valdés, Montoya, Song, Adriano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Reserves: Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Dos Santos, Iniesta and Alexis.
No little celebratory sambas tonight, ok?
REMINDER! Europe Daylight Saving Time ends tonight, and our clocks go back 1 hour. Germany celebrated with its first snowfalls for the season and the first appearance of the little red football.