Afternoon all! Our second La Liga commentary of the weekend comes from Madrid as Rayo welcome an impressive Betis outfit. Despite being tipped to struggle this season, both of these sides have European football on their minds with little under half of the season remaining. In many ways, this is the most fascinating fixture of the weekend. It really could go either way.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two sides, Rayo were 2-1 winners over Betis earlier in the season. They also picked up a win in their last home clash against Betis, a 3-0 victory in March 2012. In fact, Betis have won just one of the last five matches between the pair, a 3-1 win in the Segunda Division in 2010. That is an indicator of how far both teams have come.
Rayo are currently one of the in-form teams in the country with 12 points from the last 18 on offer, that recent run is only bettered by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Betis have also taken an impressive 10 points from the same period, however, and are currently the second-best away team in the country.
Betis’ record on the road this season is only bettered by one team, Barcelona. They have won six of their nine matches away from home, scoring an impressive 17 goals in the process. Rayo’s home form has been slightly patchy, however, with six wins from 10 matches. The proximity of the league table means that Rayo would move just one point behind Betis with victory this afternoon.
RAYO: Ruben; Casado, Tito, Amat, Galvez; Fuego, Trashorras, Dominguez; Piti, Delibasic, Bangoura
BETIS: Adrian; Perquis, Nacho, Chica, Amaya; Sevilla, Benat, Canas, Castro; Molina, Campbell
So there we have it. Much-changed Rayo side with the absence of Leo Baptistao allowing Delibasic to take his place his place in attack. Bangoura is also handed a starting role, alongside Dominguez and Piti. Betis, meanwhile, are as expected with Jorge Molina, Ruben Castro and Joel Campbell all starting. It has all the ingredients for a fine afternoon of football.
Let’s dig a little deeper into both teams’ form this season. Neither side has been too impressive in defence thus far. Rayo have conceded an incredible 36 goals in their 20 matches, a record that is worsened by just two teams. However, they have scored 27 goals which is just above average in contrast to the rest of the division.
Betis’ statistics are, on the whole, a lot more impressive. They have been far from watertight in defence with 30 goals conceded, but they are the fourth-highest scoring team in the division with 31 strikes to their name. Their ability to play on the counter has allowed them to really hit the goal trail, especially in the early parts of the season.
Taking a closer look at Rayo’s form in recent weeks, they enter the match on the back of a 2-0 defeat against Granada last time out. However, recent away wins against Athletic Bilbao and Valencia were supplemented with home successes over Getafe and Levante. Betis, meanwhile, were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Atletico Madrid on Thursday, but they are unbeaten in their last three in the league.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of kickoff. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Just about time for my pre-match prediction. I don't think there will be too much between the teams, but I am backing Betis to emerge as 2-1 winners.
Today's referee is Alejandro Hernandez. Let's hope that we can keep all 22 players on the pitch with a host of red cards in Spanish football in recent weeks. A reminder that a Rayo win would move them into fifth, while a Betis victory would consolidate their spot in fourth. The home side get us underway.
Strong start from the home side with Javi Fuego and Roberto Trashorras combining in midfield. The latter attempts to find Bangoura with a searching pass behind the defence, but the danger is cleared. Meanwhile, Dominguez heads over the crossbar from a Piti corner moments later.
Half-chance for Betis as Benat whips a dangerous free kick into the penalty area, but Tito rises highest to clear the danger. The home side break with pace and numbers, but Piti just cannot find the elusive final pass and the danger is cleared. Lively start to proceedings here.
PENALTY TO RAYO: The home side are awarded a penalty inside the opening three minutes as Adrian brings down Delibasic inside the penalty area. It was a tough decision to make, but the referee had to give it from the angle where he was placed.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Real Betis (Piti)
The home side do indeed take the lead from the penalty spot as Piti finds the bottom corner with a powerful strike. That is his fifth goal in his last five games. Some start to this match, but Betis are very strong travellers and will therefore remain confident despite the early shock.
Rayo go in search of their second as Delibasic makes another dangerous run behind the Betis defence, but this time Nacho is across to make a fair challenge. Casado whips a searching cross into the box moments later, but Adrian collects. Wonderful atmosphere inside the stadium with seven minutes on the clock.
Betis just have not got to grips with the tempo of this match thus far with Benat, Canas and Castro finding it difficult to craft and probe in the Rayo half. You just get the feeling that the next goal in this match - if there indeed is one - will make a major say on the final result. Both teams are playing high defensive lines in the early stages.
It's slightly better from Betis as Nacho advances forward from defence before winning a corner for his side, but the delivery from Benat fails to beat the first defender and the danger is cleared. The home side attempt to counter attack with Dominguez, but this time Javi Chica is across to clear the danger.
The home supporters continue to make their voices known as they attempt to push their team forward. However, the match has just become slightly scrappy in the last few moments with neither side really taken control of the possession. A long-range effort comes from Betis defender Perquis, but he fires high and wide of the target.
Another half-chance for the home side as Bangoura collects a pass from Galvez before advancing on goal, but the offside flag stops the speedy striker in his tracks. It is understood that there are a host of scouts watching Bangoura this afternoon. Leo Baptistao, who is currently injured, is another Rayo player that has drawn much interest from abroad.
Slightly bitty period of the match at the moment with neither side taking too much care in possession. Meanwhile, a couple of fouls apiece have further slowed proceedings. There has been a few end-to-end attacks, but neither has created a clear chance aside from the early penalty.
Half-chance for Betis this time as Benat fires a searching cross into the penalty area Campbell comes close to meeting the high ball, but Ruben is out to punch clear at the vital moment. Slightly better from the away side in the last few minutes, but Nacho floats another high cross over the crossbar from a decent position. Disappointing final ball thus far.
Again Betis cause problems in the home side's penalty area as Benat fires another cross into the box, but once more Tito rises highest to head clear. I would be very surprised if there were not more goals in this match with both sides demonstrating an attacking threat. It has been a decent 21 minutes of Spanish football in Madrid.
POST! The home side come within an inch or two of taking a two-goal lead as Trashorras curls an effort from outside the box, but he can only thump the woodwork. That was a sensational effort from the former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder.
Again Rayo threaten down the left as Amat fires a low cross into the penalty area, but Adrian comes out to gather the danger. Betis attack down the other end with Molina, but the Spaniard's pass towards Campbell is just too long and Ruben clears outside his penalty area.
Another half-chance for the away side as Campbell cuts inside before striking an effort towards the top corner, but his deflected effort is gathered by Ruben. Bangoura has a similar mazy run down the other end, but once more it ends in disappointment with the opposing goalkeeper gathering.
CHANCE! Betis' best chance of the match comes to Castro as the Spaniard collects possession in the area before turning and striking towards the bottom corner, but he can only fire the wrong side of the post. The chances are just starting to come as the match opens up.
Rayo have a half-chance of their own as Sevilla fells Piti outside the penalty area. The resulting free kick is delivered into the area by Dominguez, but once more the Betis defence is untroubled as the danger is cleared. Little under 15 minutes of the half to play and Rayo still lead from that early penalty.
The opportunities continue to fall for the home side as Amat whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but Amaya is across to clear for a corner. The resulting set piece causes concern in the Betis penalty area, but Dominguez just cannot sort out his feet in time and the away side scramble clear once more. Good pressure from Rayo.
Rayo continue to press Betis into their own penalty area as the corner count raises with each passing moment, but there is a reason why Betis are in fourth position in the table, they are defending impressively. Piti attempts the spectacular from a corner, but Adrian palms over the crossbar to spare his embarrassment.
Not too much to get excited about in the last few moments with the home side continuing to force the issue, but Betis are remaining strong in defence. You have to expect that Betis will improve in the second period and therefore it is vital that Rayo secure a two-goal advantage. Just about eight minutes of the first period remaining.
Decent possession from Rayo with Dominguez, Fuego and Trashorras all enjoying touches of the ball in the final third. Tito continues to cause Betis problems with his attacking movement down the right, but his delivery has thus far not been up to the required standard. However, the home supporters continue to back their team with loud vocal support.
The rain has just started to fall in the Spanish capital, which is good news ahead of the second period. The surface will become much quicker, therefore allowing greater entertainment. The home side create a three-on-two situation in attack, but Dominguez's final ball is poor and Adrian is out to collect.
The referee is called into action once more as Bangoura has his name taken for a foul on Campbell. The resulting free kick is taken by Betis midfielder Benat, but in keeping with the first period, the delivery is short of what is expected, with the danger being cleared for a corner.
Half-chance for Betis as Canas strikes a powerful effort from outside the box, but it just moves wide of the post. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play just the one minute of stoppage time at the end of the half. Bar a late showing, the home side will enter the break ahead.
HALF-TIME: Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Real Betis
So there we have it. Rayo enter the break with their lead in tact courtesy of a penalty from Piti inside the opening four minutes. In truth, that has been the only major piece of action with both sides struggling to create clear opportunities on this rainy afternoon in the Spanish capital.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. The home side have just about shaded the possession with 53%, while they have had five attempts to Betis' four. That said, there has not really been a clear chance for either team, aside from the early penalty.
A reminder that three points for the home side would move them into fifth spot in the table, one space behind their opponents this afternoon. However, victory for Betis would consolidate their space in fourth position. There is much to play for in the second period.
Let's take a look at both benches for this match. Rayo have a host of attacking options in reserve with Adrian, Franco Vasquez and Mohammed Abu on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Betis have Nono and Alvaro Vadillo on the bench, with the latter impressing against Atletico Madrid last week. Right, we are just a couple of moments away from the second half.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of the second period. No changes at the interval which is not all too surprising at this stage of proceedings. Just a reminder that following this match we have action from the Camp Nou as Barcelona welcome Osasuna. The away side get us underway.
Decent start from the home side with Dominguez combining with Piti in the final third, the Argentine attempts to strike a powerful effort on goal, but Nacho is across to make a fine block. You just get the feeling that the next goal in this match - if there indeed is one - could decide the overall result.
Jordi Amat is the latest player to have his name taken as the challenges continue to fly in from both teams. Betis whip the resulting set piece into the penalty area, but Campbell cannot make proper contact and it moves out of play for a goal kick. Meanwhile, both sets of supporters continue to create a wonderful atmosphere inside the stadium.
It's decent work from Castro as the Betis striker picks up possession before driving a low cross into the penalty area, but Ruben is out to make a fine block. Rayo attempt to break with Delibasic, but the striker has struggled to influence proceedings since winning the early penalty.
Half-chance for Betis once more as Castro finds Molina in the penalty area, but his low shot is pushed wide of the post by Ruben. Rayo create a glorious opportunity down the other end moments later, but Bangoura can only fire into the side netting. That was the chance to take a comprehensive lead in this match.
Really is an end-to-end affair at the moment with both teams threatening to add to the scoring. However, it cannot be said that either has created a clear opportunity in this second period. Still no movement on either bench, but I would expect that to change in the next 10 or so minutes.
The atmosphere inside the stadium still cannot be faulted with both supporters playing their part. It really is a wonderful place to play your football. Especially with Rayo performing so impressively this season. Meanwhile, Betis make a change with Benat being replaced by Nono.
Little over 30 minutes of football remaining in this La Liga fixture and the score remains 1-0 to the home side. However, you get the feeling that there are more goals to come. The home side make a change of their own as Jose Carlos
replaces Bangoura, who has just struggled to influence proceedings in the second period.
Decent pressure from Rayo as they force two corners in quick succession, but neither comes close to bringing their second goal. Meanwhile, Campbell is the latest player to have his name taken as the bookings continue to rise. It has not been that type of match, but the officials have been card happy in recent weeks.
Just about Rayo's best chance of the second period as Piti whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but Nacho comes across to clear with Dominguez in close proximity. Betis launch an attack of their own down the other end, but it comes to nothing. Clear chances have been very much at a premium in this match.
Again Piti is involved for the home side as he collects a poor pass from Nacho before driving into the penalty area, but he is quickly crowded by three defenders and the danger is cleared. This match really could go either way with both teams creating chances.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Real Betis (Delibasic)
Rayo double their lead! Massive goal in the context of this match as Casado whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area and Delibasic is on hand to thump his header into the back of the net. The Serbian receives a yellow card for his celebration, but he will not mind.
The home side attempt to tie up this match as Dominguez advances into the final third before drilling a low cross into the box, but Piti cannot make contact and it moves out for a throw. Betis have been really disappointing in this second period. They need to score within the next five or so minutes to stand a chance of securing something.
Betis make a change of their own as Campbell is replaced by Molins. The on-loan Arsenal striker has really struggled to influence proceedings in this match. The away side involve Molins once more as the attacker combines with Castro, but once more it comes to nothing. That has been the story of their match.
Rayo show no signs of slowing their tempo as Casado advances forward from defence before whipping a low cross into the box, but Perquis is out to clear the danger. However, the pressure continues with the home side passing and probing outside the box. Little under 20 minutes of football remaining.
Betis create a shooting opportunity as Canas is felled outside the penalty area by Galez. The resulting free kick is taken by Sevilla, but the midfielder can only fire his effort high and wide into the stands. They have a similar opportunity moments later, but it brings the same outcome.
Slightly untidy period of the match in the last couple of moments with both sets of players engaging in handbags following a host of late challenges. Again Canas is involved for Betis as he delivers a free kick from outside the box, but Ruben is on hand to make a fine save.
You just get the feeling that Betis need to score in the next couple of minutes if they are to take something from this match. However, in truth, they have struggled all afternoon. Earlier in the season they were securing results despite not playing well, that has not been the case in recent weeks.
Betis force a couple of half-chances as Canas strikes two efforts from outside the box, but Ruben is equal to the danger, while Castro also tests the home side's goalkeeper with a powerful effort moments later. The home side respond with a change as Delibasic is replaced by Franco Vasquez.
Little under 10 minutes of football remaining and neithr side is taken too much care in possession as things stand. It is up to Betis to come out and attack, but they have been unable to find that final pass, with Pepe Mel letting his frustrations known. Meanwhile, the away side make another change as Alvaro Vadillo replaces Sevilla.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 3-0 Real Betis (Jose Carlos)
The home side well and truly wrap up the points as Jose Carlos dances into the penalty area before firing a powerful effort into the top corner. Poor defending from Betis, but you have to credit the finish.
This is just about as disappointing as Betis have been all season. There has just been no tempo to their football with their midfield players struggling to find that final pass. Meanwhile, the home side make their third and final change of the match as Piti is replaced by Adrian.
Not too much to report in the final couple of minutes with the home side dominating possession. Meanwhile, Betis continue to give away a host of free kicks in their frustration. Pepe Mel will have some stern words for his side following the completion of this match. Little over two minutes of normal time remaining.
Poor discipline from Betis once more as Chica puts in a dangerous challenge on Fuego, but the referee fails to award a yellow card. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional three minutes of stoppage time.
Not too much to get excited about in stoppage time with neither side creating anything of note. Rayo have been slightly sloppy in possession in the last 10 or so minutes, but it has not mattered with Betis just about as poor as they have been all season. Little over a minute remaining.
FULL-TIME: Rayo Vallecano 3-0 Real Betis
So there we have it. Comfortable win for the home side as they move into fifth position in the table. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and remain with us for action from Barcelona. Until then!