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Meet Europe's Best Pass Interceptors...Rayo Vallecano

No, this article isn't about Tim Tebow (figured I'd just come out and say that right away). Rayo Vallecano is known for a few select--and not completely favorable--things: first, it features one of the noisiest fanbases in the world, with their arena populated mainly with blue-collar workers from Madrid's impoverished suberb of Vallecas. Secondly, they have huge financial troubles (as do most teams with a poor fanbase and no advertising revenue). Thirdly, and most importantly, they're, like my second-favorite team.

But, according to a new report from beloved soccer analysis website Zonal Marking, Rayo Vallecano is the best team in Europe at intercepting passes. Read on.


The first thing that jumps out to me, other than Rayo's position at the top of the chart is that the first 12 teams are Spanish! Here's ZM's take:

"[...] Spanish football places a large emphasis upon intercepting. From WhoScored’s statistics from the major five European leagues, 18 of the top 20 interceptors in Europe come from La Liga. The only two missing are Barcelona and Real Madrid, presumably as they have so much possession they don’t need to win the ball back so often.

For such a key part of the game to be perfected by the side currently sitting 13th in La Liga is odd, and it becomes more bizarre when you look at other key Rayo statistics. They see a lot of the ball – 51.3%, the 8th highest in La Liga. You can only intercept the ball, of course, when the opposition have possession, so one wouldn’t expect Rayo to be so good at this aspect of the game when they generally dominate the ball." Source: Zonal Marking

So the whole completely dominating possession thing explains why this list is mainly populated by middle-to-bottom-level sides in all the leagues, and Spain's defensive style explains why their sides tend to dominate these lists. But why Rayo? I'll give a quick preview from ZM, but you'll have to check out the whole article to understand why:

"So why do they complete so many interceptions? First, the mentality of the team is geared towards winning the ball quickly. The side pushes high up the pitch, with the forwards starting the pressure and generally forcing the opposition goalkeeper and defence to hit the ball longer. In Spain, forward balls played in the air are relatively rare compared to in England, France or Italy – therefore even the longer balls are played along the floor, which are inevitably more likely to be intercepted along their course." Source: Zonal Marking