The arrival of Pablo Fornals, combined with a wealth of other players who can play as both second striker and attacking midfielders, should give Fran Escribá the ability to vary Villarreal’s attacking formation.
The Yellow Submarine has always been known for playing a 4-4-2, whether under Pellegrini, Garrido, or Marcelino. The difference has been in the details—whether/how much the wingers pinch in, whether we press or concede possession in different parts of the pitch, how direct our attack is—but the formation has remained almost entirely invariable. Perhaps the closest we came to changing it was Garrido’s diamond 4-4-2, which he tried now and then.
Last season, however, Fran Escribá did try a 4-2-3-1 sometimes—primarily on the road against teams where we felt we needed to clog up midfield. Whoscored shows us using 4-4-2 31 times (18-7-6, 51 goals scored, 27 conceded) and a 4-2-3-1 7 times (1-3-3, 5 goals scored, 6 conceded). While the difference in goals conceded is statistically insignificant, clearly going to 4-2-3-1 didn’t work in attack—primarily because we did not have a ‘mediapunta’ to play behind our lone striker. The classic instance of this was our visit to San Mamés, where we created nothing in a 1-0 defeat (Trigueros was in the middle of the ‘3’ of the 4-2-3-1, Rodri and Bruno the 2).
This is of course the formation most employed in La Liga, and it’s a formation Escribá used successfully with Elche. Fornals’ arrival would allow us to play Bruno and Trigueros in the pivote, say Soriano-Fornals-Castillejo as the 3, and Bakambu say as the lone striker.
An even more intriguing formation—one that Villarreal has rarely used—is a 4-3-3 and here too Fornals could play a role. I would not expect that Villarrea will abandon the 4-4-2; it is a formation we are very comfortable with (and one of the reasons Enes Unal gave for coming to Villarreal was that it is a preferred formation) but we certainly have more options to vary things.