Vibrant Villarreal's Journey to Gdansk
It was looking like an all-English affair in both the Europa League and Champions League finals this year, however Spanish side Villarreal had something else to say on the matter. The yellow submarine managed by former Arsenal boss Unai Emery masterminded a 2-leg victory over his former side with a 0-0 2nd leg tie after winning 2-1 a week earlier in the Estadio de la Ceramica. Victory for Emery’s side means that 4 finalists from 1 nation as only happened once before in 2019, with Liverpool and Chelsea emerging victorious over Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal respectively, with Emery ironically managing Arsenal at the time. Italy did provide 4 finalists back in 1990, however there were 3 trophies to compete for at the time. AC Milan’s 1-0 victory over Benfica, Juventus’ 3-1 triumph over Fiorentina and Sampdoria’s 2-0 success over Anderlecht left the Italian sides claiming the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup respectively. 3 finalists from 1 nation have occurred 7 times, first occurring in 1980 with Nottingham Forests European Cup triumph over Hamburg, who were joined by Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach in the UEFA Cup. Here we look at Villarreal’s route to the final focusing on their statistics and secrets behind their march to Gdansk. Firstly, let’s take a look at their most recent line up to see who could be hoping to lead them to glory on Wednesday:
The side from Castellon’s record in European competition is remarkable. With 14 games played they have won a staggering 12 games, and drawing the other 2. After their 0-0 stalemate in London against Arsenal, the only other game they’ve dropped points in was in Tel Aviv after drawing 1-1 against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Matchweek 4. Their most emphatic victory coming a week before after winning 4-0 against the same opponents a week earlier. They have scored the 2nd fewest goals and have the 2nd highest win percentage of the 4 teams left in European competitions, falling short to heavyweights Man United and Man City respectively. They came through their group unscathed winning 5 matches and drawing 1, starting with a 5-3 win over Turkish side Sivasspor. They topped the group and sailed through, scoring 17 goals in the process achieving an expected goals score of 11.3. Not bad for a village with only 50’000 residents. Here’s how they compare to English sides in the finals:
Furthermore, lots of their players have had good individual seasons which is emphasised within the player statistics. These players have used the Europa League to make a name for themselves, with players such as Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer chipping in with a healthy number of goals to help them progress. The Spaniards have both provided with both goals and assists in equal measure with Moreno providing the most goal combinations within the competition this season with 11 (6G and 5A). Moreno is also joint second on goals scored behind Roma’s Bruno Mayoral, Benfica’s Pizzi and Lille’s Yusuf Yazici. Alcacer has used his big club experience from both Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund to contribute goals executing acute movement to create space, effective timing of runs and intricate link up play to create and combine. He has also chipped in with 6 goals in the competitions this season and is amongst the best for expected goals too. Let’s look at how these 2 compare with other big hitters:
Tricky Trigueros and Chukwueze
Villarreal have also used this competition to allow players to flourish and play an integral part in their season as a whole. This has enabled them to make a name for themselves and make a real impact on both European and domestic competition. For example, players like Samuel Chukwueze and Manuel Trigueros have provided numerous impressive performances, with the numbers emphasising this. Nigerian International Chukwueze has topped the list for payers dribbled past in the tournament with a massive 38, with Adnan Januzaj from Real Sociedad and Bruno Petkovic from Dinamo Zagreb coming 2nd with 36. This is regarded to be a large part of Chukwueze’s game who prides himself on his ability to beat a player 1 v 1 and deliver a cross into Messrs Alcacer and Moreno. He has also managed 8 goal creating actions this season, more than Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes. He is mainly operated on the wide right-hand side of a 4-3-3 or within a midfield 3 of 5-3-2. Whilst playing in a midfield 3, the width is provided by wing back Alphonso Pedraza, allowing Chukwueze to exploit half spaces. As a result, this will enable him to use his quick and nimble feet to beat players or create and combine with other forwards. Takefusa Kubo on loan from Spanish giants Real Madrid also possess this ability and looks to use his pace to link up with Chukwueze, playing in a midfield alongside former Leicester City man Victor Iborra and Manuel Trigueros. Here’s an example of the areas that Chukwueze picks up the ball and looks to be dangerous:
The aforementioned Trigueros has been a lynch-pin for the Yellows this season who has played an integral part in helping keeping them tick in midfield. Once a graduate of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, Trigueros has played his entire professional career at Villarreal making over 350 appearances. He looks to move the ball well by keeping possession and switching the play amongst the defence. This is achieved by encouraging midfield rotations, looking for options between the lines and understanding the element of risk versus reward when manipulating the ball in dangerous areas. Trigueros leads the way for progressive passes in the Europa League this season, with a total of 74. This is 1 more than Tottenham’s Harry Winks and 6 more than 3rd placed Frederik Aursnes of Molde. A progressive pass is defined as a completed pass which travels more than 10 metres in the direction of an opponents goal or any completed pass into the penalty area. This implies he looks to break the lines or slip passes into the channels for forwards to get a shot at goal. He has also made 105 passes whilst under pressure from opponents, emphasising his ability to be calm in possession at the same time looking to be press resistant and become the trigger for a change in intensity amongst attacking players. Furthermore, with 173 pressing actions he looks to support the press started by Moreno and Alcacer aiming to prevent opposition midfielders from dictating the play.
From a defensive aspect, many players have contributed greatly to a near watertight defence conceding only 8 goals in 14 games. The competition has enabled many players to establish themselves as first team regulars and look to consolidate their place both in the final and in the team next year. These players include on loan Tottenham Hotspur defender Juan Foyth who has had an impressive season with the club. The Argentine international has been involved in all but 3 games in the campaign so far and is 3rd on the list of successful tackles with 33, 1 behind Kristijan Jakic of Dinamo Zagreb and 2 behind Maxime Gonalons from fellow La Liga outfit Granada. Deploying himself and either wing back or centre back, Foyth has consistently showed a calm head in possession and asserted himself as a threat from set pieces, scoring his only goal of the season from a corner in the 5-3 rout of Sivasspor on Matchweek 1. He is joined in defence by previously mentioned Alphonso Pedraza who leads the way in the competition for the highest number of interceptions with 26, which is 8 more than 2nd placed Peter Olayinka from Slavia Prague. This shows his tenacity to win the ball back and his ability to read the game and step in at the appropriate times. This mentality has been an integral part of emery’s philosophy, looking to regain possession quickly by applying pressure – to then control and dictate the tempo going forward. They are joined in defence by Jaume Costa who is 3rd in the list of percentage of dribblers tackled with 83.3% behind Kristoff Ajaer and Kenny Lala of Celtic and Olympiacos respectively. This shows the defence has the ability to stay composed to win tackles against opposition players, enabling counter attacks to start.
After a 7th placed finish in La Liga this season, the yellows will be hoping to end the season on a high with victory in Gdansk, after finishing their domestic campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid. The Submarino Amarillo’s will be hoping to win their first domestic trophy since their 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup victory after beating Atletico Madrid on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Villarreal and Man United has squared off 4 times previously in European competitions, with neither side managing a single victory nor scoring a single goal. This most recently occurred on Matchweek 5 of the 2008-09 UEFA Champions League after a 0-0 draw in La Ceramica which was enough to see Villarreal’s qualification secured to the knockout stages. Fans of both teams and neutrals will surely be hoping for more goals and action at the Stadion Energna Gdansk.
This article was written by Tom Carter