Finally! At last! ¡Por Fin! Three points… three precious points!!! It wasn’t easy, but in the end we were once again victorious in Nervión, and as the referee blew his whistle to end proceedings the collective sigh of relief around the Pizjuan was remarkable. There really was no other option, a win was vital, with Juventus coming up in the Champions League and Barcelona our next home Liga opponents, anything less than a victory against our plucky opponents from Madrid would have been considered a disaster. Thankfully, disaster was averted, but boy, it could have been a whole lot less stressful.
The opening exchanges were fairly even, with Emery clearly instructing his players to play it around deep in defence to draw Rayo out, the aim being that we could then hit them on the counter. The home supporters, perhaps some of which not aware of what was going on, were getting a little bit restless as Sergio Rico exchanged multiple passes with the back three of Andreolli, Krychowiak and Kolodziejczak. The result of such play clearly had the desired affect of stretching our opponents thinner across the field, but whether it helped in the overall outcome of the game is a matter of debate. This seeming dilly-dallying may not have been pleasing to the eye, but counter attacking has not been an option this season with teams sitting deeper against us. Our winning formula is no longer a secret. Emery, not one to be shy with experimenting, had to come up with something fresh, and it appeared, from where I was sitting at least, that we were being treated to another one of his tactical ‘projects’.
Not surprisingly, with the game a little bit more open the first goal came, and it was straight out of last season’s repertoire. Tremo bombed down the left after fine hold up play by the impressive Iborra, and delivered a clever, teasing early cross in behind the defence for the always eager Gameiro who was there to stab the ball past the keeper. 1-0. The game then ebbed and flowed for while, and Rayo never really looked like they had a goal in them, so when the second goal, which took a while in coming, eventually arrived, it was of little surprise. Again Tremo delivered the ball into the box after another quick counter attack, and N’Zonzi, who initially fed Tremo out wide, continued his run into the area and had the easiest of tap-ins after Reyes unselfishly squared it to him 8 yards from goal. 2-0.
After taking the two-goal advantage into the dressing room at half time we perhaps somehow assumed the job was done, or minds possibly switched over to our big night coming up in Turin? Whatever the reason, with the game in the bag we somehow gifted Rayo the freedom of the park, and they didn’t need much encouragement as they gleefully brought the match back to level terms after 68 minutes. Thankfully our summer signing from the Ukraine came on to settle matters with a moment of genuine world class. Both Rayo goals were total Gollllazzos no doubt about that, but questions will remain about the build ups of both wonder strikes. Could the goals have been avoided had our defence and midfield been more switched on? The first, a 30 yard free kick by ex Man United flop Bebe, which didn’t need to be conceded, seemed to have defied the laws of physics and dipped past the sprawling but helpless Rico. A smattering of applause from the home fans rippled around the ground in acknowledgement of what they had just witnessed. 2-1. There was no such charitable applause however when after some sloppy attacking play, Rayo attacked down their right and found the net at Rico’s near post. Did it take a deflection? who cares? They should never have had the opportunity to shoot in the first place. It was now all of a sudden 2-2 and no-one had a clue how we had thrown our lead away.
The sickening dread that we had somehow blown the game and would be consigned to another draw, or at worst defeat, was thankfully relieved after Gameiro raced like a hare onto a miss placed ball, and won a dangerous free kick 25-yards out. It meant a second yellow for the big carthorse Rayo defender Antonio Amaya, who subsequently took an absolute age to leave the field. Konplyanka stood unfazed, a picture of concentration, patiently waiting for Amaya to trundle across the white line and off the field. He even took advantage of the delay by taking a few steps to his right to eye up his angles, and then when the referee finally gave permission, he effortlessly lifted the ball over the wall and low into Toño’s bottom right hand corner of the net. The stadium erupted again, a moment of magic, and an important a goal as you will see this season, a goal worthy to win any game! The stadium erupted into song, and this time the feel good factor seemed for real.
Konoplyanka’s moment of sheer genius aside, this was an overall better performance from the previous few games, but with question marks remaining as to how we could concede so cheaply. Our attacking left back Tremoulinas made all the difference in the first half, and was instrumental in the build up for our goals, but down the right hand side we miss Vidal and Diogo’s greyhound pace. Mariano might be the answer to that loss, but he has yet to get a good run going in the first XI. Iborra looked good in place of Banega, whilst MKD looked a little bit out of place in his new found role replacing Vitolo. One of the (blurry) pictures below shows how advanced Tremo can be, even late in the game, and how as a second winger he offers us so much in attack. Great to have him back, and probably my man of the match.
Overall, a satisfying if belated “start” to the league campaign, and hopefully more lessons learned by Emery about what is required week in week out for the season ahead.
Thanks for reading.