Villarreal’s worst-ever first half of a season in the Primera: we’re in 19th place.
A coaching change doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Truth is, the 2-1 loss to Getafe was not a whole lot different (certainly not in scoreline) from our first match of the season. If you remember, we outshot Real Sociedad comfortably and controlled much of the play, but two defensive errors resulted in two goals, and we could only score one. And so it was on Saturday.
What to do? Limited options—basically change players and/or the system. Here are some observations and/or suggestions:
(1) We need to drop Mario for Miguelón, who has impressed in fairly limited action. He’s not a great defender but puts in much better crosses than Mario and certainly isn’t any slower.
(2) we can’t keep playing the same midfield regardless of the opposition. Our best midfielder when he has space to be creative is Pablo Fornals. Against an ultra-defensive club like Getafe, he has no room to do anything. Santi Cazorla and (assuming he is healthy) Manu Trigueros are much better at operating in tight quarters.
(3) The left side is a problem, because Jaume Costa and Alfonso Pedraza together don’t offer enough defensively and are caught out of position too often. Layun in place of JC isn’t an improvement. I don’t know what we do about this one.
(4) Ditch the 4-2-3-1. We are going to have to score at least two goals to win most matches anyway, and we’re not going to do that with two of our three strikers on the bench. We tried what was essentially a 4-4-3 today when we got behind (though we had the wrong personnel in midfield), but surely a 4-4-2 with two of our three strikers on the pitch to start makes more sense. A midfield of Cazorla—Iborra—Caseres—Samu, or even Pedraza—Iborra—Trigueros—Santi, would make more sense. Iborra and Caceres are probably our best two for the doble pivote.
Would there be any value to trying the 3-5-2 that Machín is making work so well, first at Girona, now at Sevilla? It is a formation that at least would allow us to play to our roster strengths—lots of decent midfielders and strikers.
When I think back, it seems to me the two guys we are missing the most (well, Rodri too, but he was only with us for one season) are Bakambu and Musacchio. Baka missed plenty of chances, sure, but he also ended up with a lot of chances playing with a second striker like Carlos Bacca. Toko Ekambi is a weird mixture of characteristics, and he will miss plenty of chances too, but he can also set himself up for lots of opportunities (and is a better passer of the ball than Bakambu was).
Musacchio has been harder to replace. His main value was as a shot-blocker. None of our current crop of centerbacks—with the possible exception of Ruiz—are good at that. Look at the first Getafe goal today (it’s at about 30 seconds in).
Yes, Chukwueze’s positioning and failure to engage in anything defensive puts Funes Mori in a one-on-one with Molina, but the Argentine basically overruns the play and takes himself out of any chance to stop the shot. Musacchio would have tried to keep himself in front of Molina and would have tried to block his shot. We seem to be lacking that sort of skill. We also don’t have any centerback who tackles well.
And overall, we seem to lack the sort of pressure that Villarreal teams used to have. When we lost the ball in the attacking zone, we worked hard to get it back before the other team could get to our danger zone. Now we just seem to back off. Yes, we miss Rodri or Bruno as a ball winner, but we’re being too passive. This was a problem under Calleja, and hasn’t improved since.
There are three or four teams that we can finish above, but we have to start winning now. Draws don’t cut it.