Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid: Winners and Losers from La Liga Game
Atletico Madrid started the defence of their La Liga title with a goalless draw against city rivals Rayo Vallecano at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas on Monday evening in what was a hard-fought Madrid derby.
And in an opening-day contest that produced a number of talking points, these are the winners and losers from the champions’ short trip across the capital…
Winners: Abdoulaye Ba and the Rayo Back Line
Vallecano had the worst defensive record in La Liga last season after conceding a whopping 80 goals in their 38 games, however, Paco’s back four made the perfect start to the new campaign by shutting out the champions’ new big-money strike force at home on Monday night.
In particular, new loan signing Abdoulaye Ba (pictured) shone at the heart of Rayo’s defence on his La Liga debut for the club, despite a few nervous moments in the first half from the 23-year-old Senegal international centre-back.
Now all Paco’s men need to do in their next fixture at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday evening is play with the same intensity in the first half as they managed following the break after not managing a single shot on goal in the opening period.
Loser: El Cholo-Less Champions
Combustible Atletico head coach Diego Simeone was slapped with an eight-game touchline ban by the Spanish Football Federation prior to kick-off in Monday evening’s opening La Liga fixture of the new season at Vallecano.
And as a result of the Argentinian’s physical altercation with officials in Friday’s Supercopa second-leg clash with archrivals Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, the Atleti boss was forced to watch this city derby from the stands rather than occupying his usual spot in the champions’ dugout.
The visitors, though, appeared lethargic following their recent exertions against Los Blancos—especially after half-time as limbs began to tire—while there is no doubt either that Atletico badly missed the motivational presence of their energetic manager on the sidelines.
However, with Simeone’s suspension also set to include next month’s derby at the Santiago Bernabeu, this was not the start to the defence of their title that the coach would have been hoping for.
Winner: New Loan Capture from the Bridge Makes Eye-Catching Debut
There is no doubt Vallecano were taking a risk agreeing to sign Chelsea winger Gael Kakuta on a season-long loan deal in July, with the La Liga outfit the sixth club the Frenchman has now been shipped off to during his time at Stamford Bridge—including two last season—and all before the age of 24.
But judging on the albeit initial glimpses of what the former France under-21 international can offer Rayo on the flanks this campaign, the club look like they may have pulled off something of a transfer coup this summer by persuading the Blues to offload the starlet.
And that was because the wide man, who constantly switched between being stationed out on the right and left flanks against Atletico, was easily the home team’s best player with his driving runs forward from midfield and neat touches.
Loser: Captain’s Rare off Day
Atletico skipper Gabriel Fernandez Arenas, aka Gabi, endured a disappointing night in the visitors’ engine room, with the defensive midfielder’s usually inch-perfect passing game for once off radar.
But it was not just that the 31-year-old was sloppy in possession against Vallecano on Monday, the water-carrier was also wasteful from set plays, such a strong part of Atleti’s attacking game in their title win last season.
And Gabi’s bad day at the office only served to further highlight how much the champions were missing the creative influence and goals in midfield of key duo Arda Turan—with injury—and Raul Garcia—through suspension—in their stalemate at Rayo.
Winners: Rayo’s Second-Half Switches
After Vallecano failed to have a single effort on goal in the whole of the first half, boss Paco tried to alter the one-way flow of the game by bringing on powerful new striker Manucho for Jonathan Pereira 10 minutes into the second period.
And it was that decision to introduce the one-time Manchester United player, coupled with the increased threat down the home team’s right flank from tricky Mexico international wide man Javier Aquino (pictured), that really changed the momentum in Rayo’s favour after the break.
Consequently, it would now be a major surprise were Paco not to start with the much-travelled Angolan forward when Vallecano travel to Depor on Sunday night.
Losers: Atleti’s Trio of Big-Money Attackers
Atletico spent over £50 million this summer on forwards such as Raul Jimenez, Mario Mandzukic (pictured) and Antoine Griezmann following the departure in July of last season’s top scorer Diego Costa to Chelsea.
However, if usually prolific Croatia international Mandzukic is going carry on squandering chances like he did in the first half, or the visitors continue to offer their trio of new front men the type of miserly service upfront which they managed after the interval, then you begin to wonder just how much Atleti will miss their ex-striker’s haul of 27 goals last time out come the end of the campaign.