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Real Madrid Vs. Rayo Vallecano, La Liga 2012: A Look Ahead

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Heading into this weekend's la Liga match against Rayo, I don't think I've ever been more excited or curious to see a team sheet in my entire life. Obviously, the injuries to Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema will open up Jose Mourinho's selection process--in the biting cold of Moscow, it will be a draining midweek match--but what direction will he take? Will his sheet include Fabio Coentrao, for example, despite a somewhat disappointing performance against CSKA?

I expect to see Esteban Granero, Raphael Varane, Gonzalo Higuian and Kaka in the starting XI. After that, it's anybody's guess.

Sami Khedira is another strong possibility, particularly his excellent midweek showing as he continues to regain complete match fitness. I'm also wondering if this match will provide Mesut Ozil and Kaka another chance to play together. It takes moments of uncertainty like this to truly realize and appreciate the depth of this Real Madrid side.

Some notes about our competition:

I found a fascinating Zonal Marking piece on Rayo that outlines how statistically they are accumulating the most interceptions of any team in the five major European leagues. According to statistics tabulated by whoscored.com, Rayo, as of last month, were generating 39.2 interceptions per match. What's even more nuanced about these numbers is that 18 of the top-20 intercepting sides play in la Liga, with Schalke and Leverkusen as the two exceptions.

Even more striking is the fact that Barca and Madrid are the only two Spanish teams that don't make the top-20. I guess this could be viewed as another metric of their dominance, as they both tend to enjoy so much possession of the ball in any given match. The stats also show that Rayo actually enjoy a 51.3% possession rate, making the number of interceptions they engineer all the more impressive.

Michael Cox, editor of Zonal Marking, explains Rayo's eye-opening interception rate in great detail, however, I was struck by the section of the piece where he examines the role of holding players, Javi Fuego and Jose Movila, in Rayo's 4-2-3-1 system.

To have two ball winners in a 4-2-3-1 is hardly a revelation, but given the increasing tendency to have a flexible double pivot ahead of the defence, often with two technical players taking it in turns to go forward, it makes Rayo different to many other teams in Spain.

Take some time to read the article in its entirety--it really is excellent, even by ZM's lofty standards.

I watched Rayo win a wild match away to Levante last weekend and I can only imagine how fired-up and excited their fans will be to host Real Madrid for this intriguing mini-derby, especially since the club is offering discounted tickets to unemployed supporters.

What do you think about the lineup, madridistas? Do you envision a proverbial "banana peel" type of match or just another speedbump en route to the league crown? Enlighten us in the comments section below or meander on over to Managing Madrid's growing facebook and twitter community.