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The Significance of Chaos: Andoni Iraola’s Impact

Andoni Iraola, the former Athletic Club Bilbao right-back, has emerged as one of the most promising coaches in La Liga. After a successful playing career, Iraola transitioned into coaching under the guidance of Patrick Vieira. Drawing inspiration from Vieira’s positional play ideas, Iraola developed a unique tactical approach that has propelled Rayo Vallecano to new heights. In this article, we will delve into Iraola’s coaching philosophy, analyzing his team’s intensity off-the-ball and the implementation of positional football.

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Pressing off-the-ball

Iraola’s tactical approach is characterized by a proactive and aggressive style of defending. Rayo Vallecano, under his guidance, has become a team that excels in pressing high up the pitch. They apply intense pressure on the opposition, constantly seeking to disrupt their build-up play. One statistical indicator of Rayo’s defensive prowess is their low Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) ratio, which ranks among the best in the league.

The defensive shape employed by Rayo Vallecano varies depending on the opponent and their style of play. In some matches, they opt for a compact 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, while in others, they choose to play face to face against stronger teams. Regardless of the setup, the team exhibits a strong collective effort in defending. One winger, usually the left one, drops deep to assist the central defenders, while the center-forward also contributes to nullifying the opposition’s #6. The double pivot midfielders aim to block passing options, often forcing turnovers in the central channel. Meanwhile, the right-winger applies pressure on the opposing full-back.

Adaptation and Flexibility


However, Iraola recognizes the importance of adaptability. The team’s defensive positioning is flexible, adjusting to the specific situations created by the opponents. For instance, when facing a team that deploys an attacking full-back, Rayo’s left-back remains deeper, matching the opponent’s position to nullify potential threats. Fran Garcia, the regular left-back, is known for his exceptional pressing abilities. With his dynamic and aggressive playing style, Garcia effectively defends like a winger, preventing opponents from escaping the pressure.

Rayo Vallecano’s defensive success can be attributed to their collective understanding of Iraola’s system. They not only win back possession but also exhibit remarkable speed and precision in their counter-attacks. The team possesses technically adept players like Óscar Trejo and Isi Palazon, who excel in the final third. This combination of defensive solidity and attacking prowess has made Rayo Vallecano a force to be reckoned with in La Liga.

In Possession

Iraola’s coaching philosophy emphasizes the importance of positional play. He wants his players to take ownership of specific zones on the pitch, constantly seeking width and the free man. Influenced by coaches like Ernesto Valverde and Patrick Vieira, Iraola has developed a game model that revolves around creating numerical superiority in different areas of the field.

Rayo Vallecano predominantly employs a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing the team to establish a high block. Each player takes responsibility for their designated position and channels, ensuring comprehensive coverage across the pitch. The team exhibits fluid ball movements, constantly shifting from side to side and inside to back, in order to unsettle the opposition’s defensive structure.

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The full-backs play a crucial role in Rayo’s attacking strategy, as they push forward aggressively and attack the opposition’s defensive line. The left-winger operates in a wide position, frequently cutting inside to create combination plays with the left-back. The attacking midfielder, also known as the #10, adapts to the movement of the ball, while the striker provides one-touch support. Isi Palazon, the right-winger, plays in an inverted role, which suits his strengths perfectly.


Rayo Vallecano’s possession-based approach involves patient build-up play and constant ball circulation. The team aims to stretch the opposition’s defensive block by moving the ball from side to side and inside to back. This movement creates opportunities to exploit spaces and find the free man, a concept that Iraola learned from Patrick Vieira. The team’s attacking threat often stems from the speed and creativity of their wing players, who excel at creating chances and delivering crosses into the box.

The central defenders also play a significant role in Rayo’s positional play. They showcase excellent ball-playing abilities, effortlessly transitioning the ball from one side to the other, and executing incisive passes between the lines. They adhere to Iraola’s philosophy of finding the free man, often targeting the wide areas of the pitch. This approach allows the team to generate width and create opportunities for diagonal runs and movements into space.

Final Third

Rayo Vallecano’s attacking movements in the final third are characterized by constant interchanges between the striker, attacking midfielder, and Isi Palazon. These movements aim to draw markers away, creating space for players to exploit. Santi Comesaña, one of Rayo’s double pivot midfielders, has been instrumental in providing additional attacking support and making third-man runs into the penalty area.

The team’s emphasis on generating threats from the wide areas is evident in their approach to overload one side of the pitch. By committing at least two players to one zone, they create a numerical advantage and open up space on the opposite side. This strategy allows players like Óscar Trejo and Alvaro Garcia to make penetrating runs and deliver crosses into the box.

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Andoni Iraola’s coaching style has garnered attention in Spain and beyond. His modern approach to the game, influenced by his experiences with various coaches, has shaped Rayo Vallecano into an exciting and dynamic team. The team’s commitment to width, long possessions, and courageous defending has propelled them to success in La Liga.

Bournemouth Reborn

As Andoni Iraola steps into his role as the coach of Bournemouth, his unique coaching style centered around a hybrid pressing system will play a crucial role in adapting to his new team. Iraola’s high-risk, high-reward approach to the game means that Bournemouth can expect an exciting and attacking brand of football under his guidance. He places great importance on constructing well-planned attacks and maintaining a disciplined and organized defensive structure. This tactical emphasis will require the players to be proactive and tenacious in their play, both when pressing high up the pitch and when defending in their own half.

Iraola’s coaching philosophy also extends to instilling a strong sense of discipline within his squad. His well-structured tactical setups demand a high level of commitment and focus from the players, ensuring that they adhere to their roles and responsibilities on the field. Moreover, his ability to adapt to different opponents and tactical situations will allow Bournemouth to be flexible and dynamic in their approach. As Iraola integrates his hybrid pressing system and high-risk, high-reward philosophy with Bournemouth’s existing strengths, the team is likely to witness an exciting transformation under his guidance, making them a formidable force in their league.


Andoni Iraola’s impact as the head coach of Rayo Vallecano cannot be underestimated. His tactical acumen, derived from his playing career and experiences with esteemed coaches, has shaped the team’s style of play. Rayo Vallecano’s success can be attributed to their intense off-the-ball pressure and commitment to positional football. With Iraola at Bournemouth now, the team can develop a unique identity and an attractive brand of football. As they continue to climb the ranks in Premier League, it is clear that Andoni Iraola’s coaching philosophy is expected to thrive at Bournemouth.

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