Back in Madrid at long last, I head to the southern reaches of the city to visit a couple of my favourite haunts from last season.
Fuenlabrada’s start to life in the Segunda has been rather sensational. Rayo’s return there has been full of the frustrating inconsistency that dogged their La Liga campaign last season. Together they combined for a match that was in equal parts enthralling and baffling.
Fuenlabrada started strongly, putting Rayo under pressure with their direct balls into the box, but the visitors weathered the storm and hit the front with a fine headed goal from close-range by Leonardo Ulloa, the man brought in during the summer to replace R Dot D Dot T Dot.
Rayo had the better of the rest of the first half but Fuenla came out strongly at the start of the second half and after a prolonged barrage of set pieces, finally levelled the scores through Juanma’s thumping header.
The game looked to be petering out towards a 1-1 draw but stoppage time produced more action than a lot of games manage in their entire duration.
First, Rayo thought they had won it. Another powerful header from Ulloa was parried away by Biel Ribas but Rayo players surrounded the ref to protest about something. From my viewpoint down in the far corner, I hadn’t a clue what was going on, not least when after a prolonged stoppage, a goal was awarded. However, having watched the highlights when I got home, I could see why, the ball was well over the line when Ribas clawed it away. No room for Roy Carroll v Spurs shenanigans with VAR around.
After a 90th minute goal to take the lead, most teams would expect to see out the victory. But this is Rayo.
A clumsy tackle inside the box handed Fuenla a penalty and Hugo Fraile sent Dimitrievski the wrong way to equalise.
All-in-all, an intriguing clash of styles – Fuenla’s directness, Rayo’s desire to play the ball out from the back combined with their inability to do it – produced one of the most enjoyable games of my season so far.
Oh and in their next home game, Rayo went one better by dropping two points by conceding a 97th minute equaliser from a penalty.
Match Cost: €20 💶
Match Rating: 9/10
Poor Lega. It’s been a disastrous start to the season for los pepineros, who are the only side in La Liga yet to register a win and sit bottom with only two points from eight matches.
They deserved so much more from this game, but a combination of terrible refereeing, profligacy in front of goal and shooting themselves in the foot meant that they ended up with nothing.
The first half saw them dominate without ever really overly troubling Levante goalkeeper Aitor. But just as it looked like the sides would go in level at the break, the game had a major injection of polemica…
Levante were awarded a penalty for a foul on Roger Marti by Lego’s Dimitrios Siovas. The home side were furious – and with good reason. Replays showed that the foul had started outside the area and that Marti’s tumble once inside the box had more to do with him tripping over his own feet than Siovas’ intervention. This is the kind of incident VAR was brought in to prevent, but on this occasion there was a breakdown in communication between the referee and the VAR room. A mobile phone was brought onto the pitch to try and enable communication but whatever was said, the penalty stood and Marti made no mistake from the spot.
Things went from bad to worse within moments of the restart. Juan Soriano in the Leganés goal hadn’t been called upon much in the first half, but he was caught napping by José Campaña’s free kick from far out on the right flank, realising he was in the wrong position to claim it, he back-pedalled but couldn’t adjust himself enough to keep it out.
All seemed lost and for a while it looked like Levante would run riot, but the introduction of Martin Braithwaite from the bench helped Leganés rediscover their fire.
Aitor pushed a powerful En-Nesyri header onto the crossbar before Braithwaite himself reduced arrears with a delightful lobbed finish over the advancing ‘keeper. But he wasted a golden opportunity to level things up a couple of minutes later. En-Nesyri was fouled – this time there was no doubt – but Braithwaite’s penalty was tame and was easily partied away.
There was almost a dramatic moment of redemption for Soriano in the dying minutes. Throwing caution to the wind, Lega pushed everyone forward for a series of late corners and it was the goalkeeper who came closest, seeing his shot saved with practically the last kick.
Impressively, despite the defeat and the manner of their season so far, the Leganés fans applauded the players off and chanted manager Mauricio Pellegrino’s name. In the current culture of football, where short-termism rules supreme, we could do with more like that.
Match Cost: Free! (Complimentary Ticket) 💶
Match Rating: 8/10