Girona visit Rayo aiming to extend surprise Liga lead

Girona playmaker Aleix Garcia (L) has been a key figure in his team’s charge to the top of La Liga this season (CESAR MANSO)

Surprise La Liga leaders Girona face Rayo Vallecano on Saturday looking to accomplish what giants Real Madrid could not.

The Catalan minnows visit Rayo’s ramshackle Vallecas stadium, less than a week after Carlo Ancelotti’s side were held to a goalless draw at the Santiago Bernabeu by their neighbours.

Girona have the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points on Real Madrid, second, and seven above Barcelona, third, before the traditional Spanish giants are in action.

Real Madrid host Valencia on Saturday night, while Barcelona, still reeling from their defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, welcome Alaves on Sunday.

Some are starting to wonder in Spain if Girona can repeat the miracle English club Leicester City pulled off in the Premier League in 2016, when they astonishingly lifted the title.

Girona were promoted in 2022 and are in only their fourth ever season in Spain’s top flight.

They have an advantage on some of the league’s other teams, because they form part of the City Football Group, the UAE-based parent company of Manchester City, who bought the club in 2017.

However at Girona, key figures including coach Michel Sanchez and sporting director Quique Carcel are keeping their feet on the ground.

“Internally, we are very clear that what Leicester did is a very big feat and obviously these are very nice situations,” Carcel told AFP this week.

“But we don’t think about that. We know the reality that we are in. We know that here, Barca, Madrid and Atletico Madrid are clubs that are very big and have a very high budget.”

Michel previously said Girona are not competing with the big three, and instead fighting with the teams behind them — the likes of Real Sociedad and Real Betis.

“When the league starts, you never know which teams are going to be at the top,” Carcel continued.

“Obviously, Barca, Madrid and Atletico Madrid, but for example Sevilla or Villarreal are teams that you thought would be at the top and now they are at the bottom.

“We have to take it game by game. Now we play against Rayo and we don’t have to think much beyond that. I think it’s a tough, difficult game against a team that drew at Madrid.”

Girona have outscored every other team in the top flight with 29 goals in 12 matches — 10 wins and just one defeat — but Rayo are solid at the back.

Rayo have six clean sheets, the joint most in La Liga along with Madrid and Barca.

Girona playmaker Aleix Garcia will be tasked with picking the locks at Vallecas, as he has done with enviable quality and consistency this season.

The midfielder moved to Girona on loan from Man City in 2017, but later signed for Dinamo Bucharest and Eibar before returning to Catalonia.

“Aleix has made a very big evolution, five or six years ago he was coming from City, he was a bit immature in football terms,” added Carcel.

“I think he’s matured a lot, he’s had to go to smaller leagues like Romania, and come back here to play.

“Now he is in a process of maturation and I think he is a leader on the pitch and that he is growing a lot in personality, leadership and it is showing.”

Elsewhere Real Betis visit rivals and neighbours Sevilla in a derby clash.

Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski

Barcelona’s Polish striker has gone six games without scoring for the first time in over a decade. He will fancy his chances of snapping that negative streak when Alaves visit Barca’s  temporary Olympic Stadium home on Sunday.

Key stats

5 – Getafe’s Diego Rico has set up the most goals in La Liga

13 – There are 13 players in the division who have played every minute so far, all are goalkeepers except Girona’s  Garcia

36 – Real Betis playmaker Isco has drawn more fouls than any other player

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Athletic Bilbao v Celta Vigo (2000)


Rayo Vallecano v Girona (1300), Almeria v Real Sociedad (1515), Osasuna v Las Palmas (1730), Granada v Getafe (1730), Real Madrid v Valencia (2000)


Barcelona v Alaves (1515), Sevilla v Real Betis (1730), Atletico Madrid v Villarreal (2000)



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