A long time ago, when
Kluivert, Rivaldo, Guardiola and De Boer roamed the Camp Nou pitch and Van Gaal steered Barça from the sidelines, Rayo Vallecano came to visit with hope in their hearts and dread on their minds. Hope, because everyone wants to feel that they can win, and dread because they were about to duke it out against the Liga leaders.
It was May 6th 2000 – Round 36 in the 1999/2000 season with only 3 weeks left to play. Barcelona was top of the table; fiercely chased by Deportivo. Rayo was sitting comfortably in mid-table and safe from relegation. They sniffed a whiff of a UEFA Cup position and were keen to capitalise on the opportunity.
Barça started nervously and was soon paying for it when Rayo’s Jon Pérez Bolo scored in the 9th minute. The Blaugrana woke up after that (See? Nothing’s changed!) and laid siege on the Rayo goal, however halftime came with the score still 0-1.
The second half was much the same with the home side unable to find a way through the stalwart Rayo defence, and the visitors put the match to bed in the 86th minute with Bolo scoring again. The 65,000 strong Camp Nou fans voiced and whistled their disapproval of Van Gaal and Club President, Nuñez.
Here’s a quick clip of the 2 goals, the first of which sees Puyol getting smoked down the wing:
With the loss to Rayo, FC Barcelona relinquished the Liga Lead to Deportivo and never recovered, eventually coming 2nd and trailing by 5 points.
Rayo finished 9th, but did go on to contest the UEFA Cup (now called the Europa League), entering the competition by way of the Fair Play Draw.
The club did remarkably well and made it to the Quarter Finals, before losing 2-4 to Deportivo Alavés. (Alavés went on to play the Final against Liverpool which the latter won with a Golden Goal in extra time. I wrote about that match when Alavés faced Barça in this season’s Copa del Rey.)
Carles Puyol 5
The only player still playing for Rayo or Barcelona since that match back in 2000 is Carles Puyol.
Our capità underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee yesterday, and appears to be out for the rest of the season. This is the 3rd year in a row for Puyol to undergo knee surgery at approximately this time, give or take a few weeks.
Immediately after the operation, Puyol told club physio, Juanjo Brau, “The recovery starts tonight.”
Fuerza i Bona Sort, Carles – we’re not ready to say goodbye to you, nor you to us!
(Click on that excellent graphic on the right to read through the many injuries that Puyi has sustained and the surgeries that he has undergone to keep returning to play.
I once saw a Twitter comment – can’t remember whose account – which read: “When Puyol finally dies, I bet that he’ll be back playing in less than a month”!)
A little confession – I like to follow a club from Madrid.
No – not THAT ONE. Nope – not the other one. Nuh uh – not them, either. It’s Rayo, sillies! With their quaint little Vallecas stadium surrounded by apartment buildings whose balconies heave with people watching games for free, to their passionate and diehard, constantly-chanting fans and their gutsy performances on the pitch, this team is one whose results and games I follow.
I believe that Rayo’s young Striker, 20yo Léo Baptistão, has a great future ahead of him. Brazilian-born, it’s been reported that Spain is also after Léo, and he’s currently agonising over which country he’ll choose to represent. He won’t be at Rayo for much longer as clubs are lining up to sign him, and all reports point to Atléti Madrid being his destination.
Léo grew up playing with Neymar and they are great friends – just thought that I’d put that out there, Sandro, for you to consider a double-deal – that is when you’re not too busy trying to figure out what you’re going to say at your possible São Paulo court hearing.
A Strange Turn of Events
During last week’s game against Espanyol (which Rayo won 2-0), 3 Yellow cards were awarded that have an impact on this week’s match. In normal play, José Casado received his 10th Yellow of the season, so he misses Sunday’s match.
However, as the game drew to a close, and under orders from the Rayo bench, 2 more players deliberately made fouls and silly plays to earn bookings which will also see them sit out the game against Barcelona.
Javi Fuego was the first. In the 83rd minute after 2 failed attempts to draw a card (he openly held Espanyol players), referee Muñiz “Brylcreem” Fernandez produced the Yellow as Fuego delayed a throw-in. This is Javi’s 10th Yellow for the season.
Next was Léo Baptistão. The ball went out over the goal-line and Espanyol’s GK Casilla grabbed another ball. Baptistão brought the original ball back into play, dribbling it up-field and then abandoning it as soon as Fernandez showed the 5th Yellow for the striker’s season.
You can see the video showing both Fuego’s and Baptistão’s deliberate Yellows at Marca.com.
What Could This Mean?
I can only think of one plausible answer, and it’s that Rayo is prepared to lose some key First Team Players (especially Baptistão) for this match, thus clearing their card slates so that the team can focus their energy on their upcoming games in order to secure at least a UEFA Europa League spot. In the next few weeks, the team is meeting other teams who are all vying for similar positions on the Liga Table – Málaga, Betis and Valencia.
With their Card-gathering record this season (98 Yellows, 2 Yellow/Reds and 2 Reds), there is no chance of them receiving an entry with a UEFA Fair Play position as they did in 2000, so they must earn qualification the hard way!
Rayo’s New Players Since the Last Meeting
The team got busy during the January Winter Transfer Window and shored up their ranks with 4 new players:
~ Spanish Right-Back 25yo Anaitz Arbilla from Hércules.
~ Iconic former Espanyol Striker, 35yo Raúl Tamudo, has rejoined Rayo after being released by Mexican team Pachucha following an unsuccessful 6 months in which he failed to impress.
~ Spanish Centre-back and Catalunya-born 25yo Jordi Figueras, who is on-loan from Belgium’s Club Brugge.
~ Brazilian Forward 23yo Gabriel Teixeira Machado from Romania’s Steaua București.
Bound for Camp Nou
Manager Paco has selected the following players to travel to Barcelona:
Reuben, Cobeño, Tito, Adrian Galvez, Amat, Arbilla, Figueras, Nacho, Piti, Trashorras, F.Vázquez, Isi, J.Carlos, Tamudo, Chori, Deli and Lass.
Isi (Isaac Gómez) is a Rayo cantera player who will wear the #39 if he gets to play. This is a huge show of confidence in the Juvenil B 17yo to include him in the team at this stage in his career.
Rayo currently sits in 9th position on the Liga Table, 3 points or less away from higher Getafe, Valencia, Betis and Málaga.
Despite missing Baptistão, Casado and Fuego, as well as Labaka and ex-Blaugrana Rodri through injury, Rayo will still put out a strong team, headed by Captain and Team Pichichi, Piti. They will be inspired by memories of how their team achieved the improbable back in May 2000, and motivated by their bonus pay-outs should they finish the season in a UEFA competition place.
Although Rayo lost the first encounter this season (Barça won 0-5), there was general consensus, at the time, that it was one of the worst performances by the Blaugrana for the season. If Rayo presses as it did in that game, we may see a scoreline which more accurately reflects their efforts than the result back in October 2012.
Tony Stark – Rayo’s Secret Weapon
When Barça played Rayo at Vallecas late last season, the home team wore a special sponsor across the shirt – advertising for the movie “The Avengers”.
Rayo has again partnered with Disney and will be promoting “Iron Man 3” at Camp Nou. To quote the movie’s Aldrich Killian, “The whole world’s gonna be watching.”
Un Crit Valent
After Tuesday’s high, Barça will have to be fully focused back on their La Liga duties for the last game before the International Break. Make no mistake about it, with 11 games remaining, the Liga is by no means in the bag for the Blaugrana. With big away games still to play against teams such as Atléti Madrid, Bilbao and Espanyol; games against teams that are desperately fighting to avoid relegation, and the last game for the season at Camp Nou vs. Málaga, the team can’t afford to relax just yet.
In his press conference, Jordi Roura (who might possibly be guiding his last game as interim coach), had this to say:
“It’s very important and especially complicated. We’ve just had a very intense game which was a huge psychological and physical effort. After such a big boost we have to guard against a drop in our intensity. We have to be very careful. It’s vital to win all our home games.”
I will be surprised if there is a lot of rotation before the PSG games, however with Valdés, Puyol and Xavi sidelined, Pinto will at least play the next 3 games, and I’d expect to see Piqué, Mascherano and possibly Adriano share the CB roles with Bartra perhaps getting some action, as a sub to begin with. Xavi will be covered by Thiago and Cesc, and we might see Song and Busquets play more minutes together. If Iniesta isn’t on the pitch during the next 3 games, we’ll get to see Messi wearing the captain’s band again.
Messi will be adding some new weaponry to his arsenal, because he hasn’t yet managed to do this:
The game kicks off at 21:00 CET on Sunday 17th March.
Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Rayo Vallecano de Madrid
And wait for it to load.
You’ll thank me for it – or maybe not.