x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Spanish Primera Liga side Rayo Vallecano pushing the limits

Strapped of cash and star power, the football club side are still punching above their weight, writes Andy Mitten.

Rayo Vallecano's Piti, centre, is the Primera Liga's seventh top scorer so far this season. Dani Pozo / AFP
Rayo Vallecano's Piti, centre, is the Primera Liga's seventh top scorer so far this season. Dani Pozo / AFP

Rayo Vallecano should not be seventh in the Primera Liga within two points of fourth and a potential Uefa Champions League spot.

The team from a three-sided ground in a left-leaning central Madrid barrio lost their two best players, Michu and Diego Costa, before the season began.

Michu famously departed for Swansea City in the English Premier League for what now is a knock-down price of £2 million (Dh11.5m), while the Brazilian attacking midfielder Costa returned to Atletico Madrid, where he has been one of their best players.

Costa said this week that he would like to play in England and his aggressive style would suit the Premier League.

Rayo fans watch their old boys excel with mixed emotions. They get knocked down every year, it is their ability to get back up which is the measure of their club.

In the summer their hero Michel retired and the popular coach Jose Ramon Sandoval was dismissed.

As the season commenced fans protested about being made to play on a Monday evening, players went unpaid and the club were – and still are – in administration.

With the lowest budget in the league and revenues restricted by the league's smallest stadium, they will continue to lose their best players, continue to survive by signing cheap youngsters, loan players or catching falling stars who have burnt their bridges elsewhere.

This season's best performer, the Brazilian striker Leo Baptistao, 20, will go to Atletico in June.

With six goals from 19 games, he has hardly been prolific and one watching Manchester United scout compared him to Daniel Welbeck. That was a compliment.

Rayo are surrounded by vultures. Second-placed Atletico usually take the pick of their talents.

They travel the short distance to Rayo's squat ground on Sunday, where they will face a highly motivated band of warriors who win more than they lose. And who will have half an eye on earning a transfer to a club like Atletico.

Their 32-year-old top scorer Piti is a Catalan who was playing amateur football until he was 24 and only established himself in the top flight in 2011. With four goals in the last month, he is the league's seventh top scorer, with the same number as the Spain striker Alvaro Negredo.

Despite their many handicaps, Rayo have a good chance of achieving a second ever shot at European football next season.

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