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Tactical Philosophy: Paco Jemez

While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. This piece explores the mind of Paco Jemez, Rayo Vallecano’s madcap coach.


Born on the 18th April 1970 as Francisco Jemez Martin, to the son of a flamenco singer, Paco has always admitted that he would have followed in his father’s musical footsteps if he had the talent for it, however he has proclaimed that he had “neither the voice nor the talent for it”. Instead his father helped shape his career in a different way. With his father being an avid Cordoba fan, it was Cordoba that Paco joined, and made his debut in the Segunda Division B as an 18 year old as a tough tackling centre-back.

Paco Jemez 2015

A series of yearly moves to clubs Murcia and Rayo Vallecano saw little in the way of stability until he joined the then super-power Deportivo De La Coruña in 1993. A series of good finishes saw the club finish second in Pacos debut season there, agonisingly missing out on the title due to Barcelona’s superior head to head record. Paco left Deportivo at the beginning of the 98/99 season after an impressive 5 year spell at the club, during which he won the Copa Del Rey. He moved to Real Zaragoza where he embarked on a 6 year spell that was marked with both ups and downs, where he won the Copa Del Rey for the second time in the 00/01 season before finishing bottom and subsequently getting relegated the season after. However they came back up at the first time of asking before marking their return to the top flight by winning the Copa Del Rey again. After Zaragoza he began winding down his career, moving to Vallecano (in the Segunda Division B) again for a short spell before eventually retiring at Lugo in 2006.

Paco also received 21 caps for Spain over a 3 year spell. The highlight of his time as an international was during Euro 2000 where Spain reached the quarter-finals.

Tactical Philosophy

The way Paco Jemez sets his teams out to play is best described as a cross between Guardiola and Zdenek Zeman.

His Rayo team keep the ball very well, often dominating possession against the opposition (in the 14/15 season, Rayo had the 3rd highest amount of possession in the league, with a league average of 57.6% possession, behind Real Madrid’s 58% and Barcelona’s 69.8%). Yet they attack with the high intensity attacking mentality often normally only found in a Zeman side, creating an exhausting but exhilarating style of football.

Strangely for such a possession based side, Rayo like to gamble with losing the ball. In the games I’ve watched over the past season I’ve noticed that they often play long balls (3rd highest in La Liga) , along with plenty of shots from range (2nd highest in La Liga) and hopeful crosses (the 4th highest amount of crosses per game in La Liga). This gives them an air of unpredictability, with the talent and will to change their style of play completely at a moment’s notice.

Due to Rayo’s ridiculously small budget (rumoured to be around the €7m-€8m per year mark, for everything, from staff to player salaries), Jemez constantly has to see his star performers leave for a pittance each season, before reshaping the squad and still consistently punching way above the financial constraints the club deals with.

Rayo Updated

A 4-2-3-1 is the usual formation that Paco chooses, rather than being the creative force as in most 4231s the player behind the striker is the main goalscorer within the team (Piti with 18 goals in 12/13, Bueno with 11 in 13/14 and Bueno with 17 in 14/15).

Full backs

The full-backs are expected to be the epitome of the “modern” full-back. When the play is on the opposite flank, the full-backs spread wide which will allow for an un-opposed diagonal ball forward, allowing for the ball to move up into the more dangerous areas as quickly as possible.

As is standard for full-backs in the modern game, they are expected to push forward and join in with attacks. Jemez seems to like his full-backs to be disciplined and rarely overlap the winger, only joining in attacks when the winger tucks into a more central position.


For goal-kicks the full-backs are required to drop as deep as possible to receive the ball, an easy way of retaining possession rather than gambling on keeping the ball from a punt upfield.


Central midfield

When in possession, the midfield is fluid and dynamic (as you’d expect from a Spanish side), with plenty of passing triangles formed used to move the ball around and frustrate/tire the opponent in between transitions.

The typical triangle used for retaining possession.

Baena is generally the more defensive of the 2 holding midfielders, often dropping back into defence during situations where the back-line is under a lot of pressure to create a 5 man defence.

Baena dropping deep to shore up the defence.

Baena dropping deep to shore up the defence.

When Rayo have the ball, the midfielders are given a bit of creative freedom, which they use to pass and move to devastating effect.

 Trashorras playing a simple pass then running past 2 players to receive the ball

Trashorras playing a simple pass then running past 2 players to receive the ball


The main striker (mostly Manucho) is required to either hold the ball up if a pass comes into him from midfield, or knock the ball down from long-balls played into him allowing for a chance to whoever is following up (normally Bueno). Manucho often drifts into wider areas, dragging defenders out of position and generally causing a nuisance with his strength and movement.


Rayo implement a very high press when the opponent are in their own half, with plenty of players trying to force the opponent to clear the ball, most likely ending in a turnover of possession.

A high-press to stop the opponent building from the back

A high-press to stop the opponent building from the back

Three career defining games

3/11/12 – Malaga vs Rayo Vallecano (A) – 2-1 win: Before the game Rayo were languishing in 15th place with just 3 wins from 9 games. A tough game against a 3rd placed Malaga side containing Isco and Demichelis loomed. Rayo pinched a 2-1 victory that kick started their season, ending in a Europa League spot, which is frankly a huge achievement for a team operating on such a small budget. Sadly though they were excluded from entering the competition due to their financial situation.

21/9/13 – Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona – 4-0 loss: Vallecano had chance after chance but failed to score – early-on, a stunning save from Valdes denied Vallecano from taking the lead. Pedro then made it 1-0 to Barca. Trashorras then had a penalty saved by Valdes. Reaching half-time and having only a 1-0 lead whilst being up against it caused Barcelona to completely change their tactics; no longer would they try to impose themselves on Rayo, instead they switched to a more counter-attacking style which worked almost instantaneously as they went 2-0 up. From then on Barcelona’s counter-attacks punished Rayo heavily.

Despite this, Paco’s plan to take the game to Barcelona worked perfectly, with this game ending a run of 5 years (a total of 316 games) in which Barcelona had won the possession stat. Rayo ended the game with 54% possession, an unbelievable achievement. Barcelona’s possession of 46% was 20% below their seasonal average, with their pass success ratio 12% lower than their seasonal average. Barcelona have since won on possession every game since.

25/8/14 – Rayo Vallecano vs Atletico Madrid – 0-0 draw: Atletico Madrid had just won the league and reached a Champions League final and were eager start their season in a decisive matter. That was until they came up against Rayo Vallecano in their opening fixture of the season. Rayo dominated the game with 57% possession (7% less than Atletico’s season average), nullifying the threat of Atletico so much that Atletico ended up the game with only a 67% pass completion rate, a massive 10% less than their seasonal average.

Three key players developed

Bueno: The attacking midfielder-cum-striker was picked up in the second year of Pacos reign; a decision which turned out to be an astute one, as he adapted to Paco’s philosophy instantly, scoring 11 league goals in his debut season at Vallecano. The next season ended better than the first, netting 17 league goals including an incredible 4 goals in 14 minutes against Malaga. His fantastic record at Vallecano has earned him a move to Porto this summer – it’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat his success.

Jordi Amat: The left-back arrived at Rayo on loan as a youthful 20 year old, having previously failed to make much of an impression on the Espanyol first team. He had a great season, starting 26 of Rayos La Liga games, impressing Swansea so much that they swooped with a €3m bid before he could return to Espanyol.

Jonathan Viera: The attacking midfielder joined Rayo in similar circumstances to Jordi Amat, arriving on loan from Valencia after failing to break into their starting 11. He worked wonders in Rayo’s system scoring 5 goals and bagging 7 assists over the course of the season, before Standard Liege swooped in and purchased him at the end of the loan spell.

Written by Stuart Reid


Markus Weinzierl 2015


Karl Robinson



Stuart Reid

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