Rayo head coach, Andoni Iraola. EUROPA PRESS
Must do better!

Must do better!


Tiny Madrid club Rayo have a much greater chance of making Europe next season than Jürgen Klopp's struggling tenth-place Premier League team


Friday, 10 February 2023, 14:01


The half-term reports are out for all La Liga's clubs, and they read "must do better" for all, except for Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad.

Rayo fans sing a song about an ambition to play Liverpool next year in Europe. It used to be sung in jest when the tiny club in the working-class suburbs of Madrid were fighting for existence. It was a dream to play the English giants in European competition.

As it stands, Rayo have a much greater chance of making it to Europe next season than Jürgen Klopp's struggling tenth placed Premier League team.

Rayo sit in fifth place at the commencement of the second half of the season and "EL AÑO QUE VIENE, RAYO-LIVERPOOL..." is being belted out louder and prouder than before.

The coach, Andoni Iraola, has assembled a team of workaholic players who probably wouldn't get a chance in the top-flight elsewhere and organised them into a formidable force. No club likes playing Rayo or visiting their humble three-sided stadium in a part of Madrid you won't find on the metro map.

The club fights against the odds. An example was the signing of Spain international striker Raúl de Tomás in the summer. Bureaucracy prevented him from playing until January. So, in theory they should be strengthened for the second part of the season.

They've also hung onto talented full-back Fran García who had a buy-back clause in his contract when he joined from Real Madrid. He'll be going back across the capital - but only at the conclusion of the season.

The club is in-vogue and coach Iraola is rightly getting plaudits. Worryingly for Rayo, he's reportedly on the wish-list for manager-less Leeds United. His energetic style of football and ability to squeeze the maximum out of a limited bunch of players is very desirable. The passionate Leeds fans are pussycats compared to the riotous Rayo ultras.

The only club to match them for exceeding expectations is Real Sociedad who sit third in the table. Their ultra-organised coach, Imanol Aguacil, also has led his team to victory in twenty-one of their thirty-one matches in all competitions. They are still fighting in Europe having topped their table ahead of Manchester United.

As winners of their Europa League group, they have the luxury of waiting until the end of the month to see who qualifies to play them in the "round of 16" of the Europa League. Nobody will welcome a date with the team who have the worst disciplinary record in the Spanish first division and play in front of sell-out Basque crowds.

They've also defied the odds as they sold their star striker Alexander Isak to Newcastle in the summer. Some of the money was invested in Umar Sadiq as a replacement. Alas, he's been missing with injury alongside their most talented player Mikel Oyarzabal. The latter is just back to full fitness.

So, Real Sociedad and Rayo's dream of competing in Europe next season seems a distinct possibility. Just don't bank on playing the team in the song title, as Liverpool are unlikely to be there.

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