Takefusa Kubo, after his brilliant performance against Sivasspor in the Europa League, earned a first La Liga start for ‘El Submarino Amarillo’. They were up against Cadiz — a newly promoted outfit that have already surpassed expectations: They beat defending champions, European powerhouse Real Madrid a week before. The ‘other yellow submarine’ gave Real almost zero chances of even drawing the game and executed their game plan to perfection. So, whether Villarreal fans knew this beforehand or not — this was supposed to be a pretty tough game on the calendar, something that no one had expected prior to the inception of this season.
Villarreal — in terms of playing their style — suffered the same fate as ‘Los Blancos’ They were given no space in the attacking third from Cadiz, who were very compact when defending deep. They defend with a low block, and it’s already very difficult to beat teams that carry that out as well as they did. If you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter if the opposition had 80 per cent possession, or completed ten thousand passes — it’s certain that they will find huge difficulties in scoring, because they will not create chances. They would be passing around the attacking third of Cadiz, hoping for a defender to come out of his position and give the space that the team wants, which will almost never happen. Of course, this style of play isn’t perfect, by any means; They did concede three against Sevilla, and two against Osasuna, so they’re definitely not unbeatable. But they have good, hardworking players who suffocate their opponents if the plan is to, well, suffocate their opponents. And of course, they were significantly better in their last four games than they were prior.
In their last four games, Cadiz have only conceded one goal. This team is very, very patient, and very underrated defensively. Get this: Kubo, who has proved time and time again how useful he can be with him in a central position, and getting more of the ball — was a bystander. He was almost invisible. This is partly on him, but also on how solid defensively Cadiz was. They allowed him no space at all. Villarreal had 77% possession. They only took seven shots. Out of those, only two were on target. And they scored zero goals.
Normally, I would tell you his individual statistics to change your mind. I wish he looked bad only on the eye test. But, that wasn’t the case. Kubo had 40 touches, he completed only 20 out of 34 passes (58.8%), he had one successful dribble, he created zero chances. He had zero key passes; only one pass into the attacking third. That’s it. That’s the summary of Kubo’s first La Liga start
I talked about the team as a whole when I should solely be talking about Kubo, but the thing is, I need to tell you how the team played to make you understand how Kubo did. Villarreal couldn’t do anything as a team. Cadiz defended well as a team. Villarreal had 904 touches. Only forty were from Kubo. Even though he was in central positions, his impact was minimal. I can’t explain his involvement better than this, unfortunately:
Four days later, Villarreal played Qarabag in the Europa League, with Kubo getting yet another start in the famous yellow shirt. This was the third straight start for the Japanese. (That reported call from Florentino Perez actually worked?) Anyway, to summarize his performance in under 10 words: Definitely better than the one before.
In the first half, he looked out of place on that left flank. He didn’t get much of the ball. When he did, he wasn’t able to do much with it. That was because of one fact: There wasn’t a lot of movement from him, and the team relied on going forward through the players in the middle, or through the right side, where Chuckweuze was deployed. He lost the ball four times in the first fifteen minutes. It was either because of Qarabag’s press, or Kubo’s misjudgment while passing it to an outlet. Also, Qarabag’s pressing was noteworthy: The outfit from Azerbaijan — at least in the first half — did very well to close out any possible outlets for Villarreal players to pick out, along with counter-pressing Villarreal to win the ball and try to create some chances of their own. For the first twenty or so minutes, Villarreal didn’t see the ball much (which is why Kubo only had less than 10 touches in that period) As Villarreal grew into the game, particularly in the second half, Kubo seemed to get more of the ball, and started doing his thing with it. That was a plus point, since against Cadiz, it was a stagnant offensive scheme even when they had so much of the ball. Against Qarabag, the offense was very fluid, again, especially in the second half.
Kubo didn’t seem lost on the left hand side in the second half. He started making runs inward. Instead of trying to get in behind Qarabag’s defensive line, he tried to make himself available to the ball carrier by going towards him. Even though Villarreal didn’t score until Kubo was off the pitch (Paco Alcacer is just a fantastic goalscorer, really.) , it seemed more and more likely that they will because they really were the better team in the second half. Kubo had a mammoth EIGHT shot creating actions in total (career high), most of which were in the second half. He had four key passes, three passes into the penalty area, and three passes into the attacking third as well. He also completed three crosses. He ended the game with an xG of 0.6 and an xA of 0.5. All of this playing on the left wing, something he hasn’t done much in his career:
The thing is, he is not a definite starter, as we all know. He’s getting minutes right now, but he hasn’t earned his place in the starting eleven as of yet. He needed that second half to prove to Emery that he is out of his minor slump and is ready to be in contention to start the next game. Against Sivasspor, he had the freedom to roam around anywhere he wanted. It was different this time around, and he still performed well. A string of games (By games, I mean the second half. Yes, I am blatantly ignoring his first half performance) like this, and Kubo could see him being in the starting eleven a lot more often than not. If Kubo achieves that, Villarreal’s chances of clinching that fourth Champions League spot would certainly be even higher.