Everybody loves a local derby, but football followers outside Madrid are often unaware that Rayo Vallecano and Getafe are actually Madrid clubs and many fans with limited knowledge of the Spanish game think that the only derby for Real Madrid is the Atletico match. Fans of Rayo and Getafe will take umbrage with this though and view the derbies with both Real and Atletico as big games in the league calendar. Although Real have a great record in the derbies against the two other Madrid sides, the derby games always have the potential to throw up an unexpected result so in that sense the players need to stay focussed.
With regards to the Rayo Vallecano game in particular, Wednesday's match provides Real Madrid with the perfect opportunity to follow on from Sunday's high-scoring game against Granada and continue to put pressure on Barca. On paper it's very to say that Real will go to Vallecas on Wednesday night and win easily; but the reality of derby games means that you can never take anything for granted. Although Real won convincingly in the corresponding game last year and also at the Bernabeu in November, it took a spectacular back-heel by Cristiano Ronaldo to beat Rayo Vallecano a couple of seasons ago.
That game in particular was quite a physical encounter and this can often be the way of derby matches where the right attitude can often be the difference between winning and losing, and even between losing or drawing. In these games you need players who are prepared to make that extra run, chase back and try to win the ball when it looks as though it's lost you're never going to get there, make that tackle at the last minute and most of all be prepared to put your head in when the boots are flying around in the goalmouth!
In other words, a slightly more passionate approach than normal is to be expected in these games and I certainly wouldn't expect Rayo Vallecano to capitulate to Real Madrid on Wednesday night in the same way as Granada did on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti will have made his decision by now on the ‘any 11 from 12' question that has been the focus of the media since the Granada match. He will be looking to pick the starting eleven most suited to this type of game and that might not necessarily be the eleven that most of the press or supporters would choose. However, Ancelotti will select the team that he feels is most appropriate for the task in hand.
Derby games are always special. There's a run of these coming up in the next few weeks and after the Rayo game, the focus will turn to the Atletico matches in the Champions League. However, the immediate priority for Real Madrid is to go to Vallecas and come back with the points. A target of already been set by the management team of three points from every game in order to keep the pressure up on Barca. A win in Vallecas will be essential if the team are to reach that total.
Barring injuries as usual, the choice of players selected could influence Madrid's approach to the fixture. Things have improved a lot on the field with the return of Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, and James Rodriguez; and if you include the ‘BBC' trio of Benzema, Bale and Cristiano that's virtually the backbone of the team that was so successful before Christmas and in the World Club Championship.
Luka Modric in particular has delivered exactly what he was expected to bring to the team and that is sensible, accurate passing and a commanding presence in the middle of the field. Sergio Ramos always makes a difference in defence and the return of James looks to have contributed significantly to the way the team played against Granada. That said, Rayo Vallecano won't make it as easy as Granada did on Sunday and play hosts to Real Madrid on the back of a three-match winning streak.
Former Real Madrid youngster Alberto Bueno has been dynamic up front so far this season for Rayo Vallecano, scoring regularly. Bueno actually netted the ‘perfect' hat-trick recently when he scored all four of Rayo's goals against Levante - one goal with each foot plus a header. Partnered in attack by the big Angolan striker Manucho, Madrid's defence are likely to have their hands full and as we said earlier, the attitude on the night may well be the telling factor.
There's a few difficult games coming up after Wednesday; but the old saying is to take one game at a time. The important thing at the moment will be following up the Granada game with another convincing performance. On the field it looks as though it's all beginning to come together again and that Madrid are now coming out of that difficult period where things just didn't seem to go right. The next few weeks will tell for sure; but first of all there is the trip to Vallecas to contend with.