Villarreal made a number of changes from the midweek Europa League win over Qarabag, most notably in formation. Having lined up in a 433 in recent weeks, Unai Emery reverted back to the 442 shape that he started the season with. Gerard Moreno came straight back into the starting XI following his return from injury, and a start for Chukwueze on the wing meant Take Kubo dropped back to the bench again.
Real Valladolid played a more attacking line-up than expected, with record signing Shon Weissman leading the line in a 4231 shape.
The story of the game
This was arguably Villarreal’s most solid win of the season, and they started as they meant to go on this game. From the first whistle Villarreal pressed high up the pitch and dominated the ball, suffocating Real Valladolid whilst also breaking into the final third well. The opening goal came in the 21st minute, when Pedraza, often providing the overlap from left back, put in a perfect cross which Chukwueze finished into the bottom corner with a clinical first-time finish. Villarreal continued to push forward and extended their lead in the 37th minute: Pau Torres finished from close range after Paco headed on from a corner. Villarreal could have made it three through a spectacular effort from Gerard just before half time, with his volley from outside the box coming off the post.
Real Valladolid grew back into the game at the start of the second half, having made two half time substitutions, but Villarreal remained defensively strong and did not allow Valladolid much space to operate. Gerard thought he had extended the lead to 3-0, heading in an excellent delivery from Moi Gomez, but this was harshly ruled out by VAR for a push in the box.
Villarreal were superior in all aspects of the game: possession 59% - 41%, shots on target 5-1 and XG 1.9-1.0. Pau Torres led in passes completed (62), touches (79) and ball carries (64), whilst also leading in individual XG with 0.7.
Villarreal returning to a 442-shape surprised me, given the strong recent form in a 433, as well as the lack of fluidity in the early stages of the season when using a 442. However, this match showcased a lot of what Villarreal are capable of when pressing high up the pitch, and a fluid front 4 meant that the side was able to occupy dangerous positions in the final third without losing defensive stability. A key component of this was the much-improved performance of Samuel Chukwueze, who has been inconsistent so far this season. Not only did he score the opening goal, but his work rate was excellent, and created more attacking spaces for his teammates to attack. He started in his usual right-wing position, but often came over to the left, which allowed Moi Gomez to push further forward and enter the box.
Paco Alcacer has been the subject of much talk recently. Whilst he has been among the goals, especially in the Europa League, his ‘poacher’ style has drawn criticism, that he does not offer enough in build up play. However, even though he did not score, he had a good game, and his clever attacking movement was evident in both goals. For the second goal he claimed the assist, as his clever headed flick on fell to Pau Torres to finish, showing signs of a practiced set piece routine. A less obvious involvement is that of the first goal, as his movement dragged Valladolid’s defenders away, creating more space for Chukwueze to finish.
Here you can see Paco distracts the centre back, who turns to track his run, but in this split second space is opened up for Chukwueze to be able to finish before the shot can be blocked. Chukwueze then bursts into the box and is found by the low cross to slot it into the bottom corner.
Because the Valladolid centre back Bruno Gonzalez followed Paco’s run, he could not intercept the cross.
Whilst he does not offer as much in build up as a more complete number 9 like Gerard would, his finishing ability and movement inside the box will prove effective over the coming season.
Player of the Match
Pau Torres was officially given player of the match, and deservedly so, as he led his teammates in passing numbers and scored the crucial second goal, but another player who deserves credit for his performance was Alfonso Pedraza at left back. Stepping up in the absence of new signing Estupinan in recent weeks, this game was his best performance yet. Pedraza was defensively sound, but a very dangerous option going forward, and repeatedly tested the Valladolid defence with crosses, including the exquisite assist for Chukwueze’s opener.
With matches coming thick and fast, I expect there will be heavy rotation, and hopefully more game time for some of the young prospects coming through, such as Yeremy, in the Europa league on Thursday against Maccabi Tel Aviv at home, before a tough trip to face Getafe next Sunday in La Liga.
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