Are teams targeting Jaume Costa as far as attacking Villarreal? It's a plausible suggestion. On our right flank, we have Spanish international Mario Gaspar at right back, and (in recent matches) a fairly defensive player on the wing, Jonathan dos Santos. While on our left, we have Costa, not known as a great defender, and Denis Suarez, our main attacking threat on the wing.
So what does the evidence say? To analyze this, I went to WhoScored and looked at the following, for our last 11 La Liga matches (our unbeaten streak, plus our last loss):
(1) I compiled the percentages of "attacks down right" (our left).
(2) to control for the fact that some opposition clubs might naturally attack down that side anyway, I got the same percentage for each of the opposition's four matches (in the league) closest to when they played Villarreal, and averaged those.
(3) I then subtracted (2) from (1) . A positive value meant the team attacked more down our left than 'typical', given their other matches.
(4) I also noted the WhoScored rating for our left back, and who played there.
The data is here:
I should note there is one "fudge": Athletic Club's 68% attack down their right against Barcelona in a 6-0 loss seemed a clear outlier, so I deleted that from the equation (without eliminating it, Athletic is the only side which attacked down Costa's side less than average).
Caveats are that I am relying on one data source, and a more detailed analysis could include our entire season and include more data to establish an attacking pattern for the opposing side. That said, here are some takeaways that jump out from the data above:
(1) Every team playing Villarreal attacks more down our left than is typical for them.
(2) This has been true regardless of who has played there: Jaume Costa's five appearances have resulted in attacking down that side 8%, on average, more than usual; Adrian Marin's five appearances have resulted in attacking down that side about 6% more than usual. Antonio Rukavina's one appearance on the left resulted in little change.
(4) Adrian Marin, on the other hand, was rated poorly in one match, and Getafe attacked down that side far more than their usual (though in Adrian's defense, his rating was actually one of the better ones in a dreadful team performance, and that was his first appearance in the league this season); in his others, where he was rated strongly, teams attacked down his side 3% more than their "average', much less of an effect than when Costa was playing.
Based on this data I'd say there are two factors at play: yes, the presence of J dos and Super Mario on the other side do push teams more toward attacking down our left, but also, Costa is perceived as something of a lightweight defender compared to players like Rukavina or Marín, who either support our attack less, have greater positional awareness, or better defensive skills, depending on your point of view. So yes, teams are going after Jaume Costa when they attack.
For what it's worth, Malaga tend to attack down the left, so we'll see if the Juanpi-Jaume Costa matchup changes that. Based on the above analysis, I would expect so.