This was a match we absolutely should have won, not just based on the talent level of our opponent, but also based on the balance of play. We are better than them and were better than them on the day, yet we failed to convert any chances and had to walk away with a 0-0 draw in which Paco Alcacer got hurt again. So let’s break this down a bit.
It should be said from the off that Elche did nothing offensively, and I mean nothing. Fbref had them at 0.1 xG, understat had them at 0.05 xG. We were in no danger of being scored on in this match. Villarreal had 57% of the ball, which is less than I expected against this side, but nevertheless resulted in us having the majority of the offensive pressure, as you can see from this chart.
Frustratingly, all that control and pressure was only converted into 0.7 xG for our part. Essentially, we could put pressure on them but we could not cut out clear chances. Given the lineup we had available, that should not have been an issue. I think a couple of things in particular contributed to these problems. First, Gerard Moreno was far more stagnate than he normally is. During Paco’s brief return to the lineup he slid out to the right and looked far more like the Gerard we are used to seeing, but when he’s asked to hold the front and occupy center backs it really takes away from his usefulness. Second, Alex Baena didn’t have a good performance. He’s a young player with a bright future, so I’m not upset with him, but it was not his day on either side of the ball.
In the second half, having a player come on only to be removed again is a bizarre occurrence for a football team, and I think it made our offense a bit disjointed after the break to have Paco come on, then lose him again. Paco had two shots, neither were outstanding chances, but I think there was a bit of rust in his performance.
For the record, while putting him on proved to be a mistake, it’s not a mistake I really blame anyone in particular for. If the information Emery had from the training staff and the player was that he was fit, then of course he should be put in during a 0-0 match. Our training staff seems to do a good job, generally, easing guys back from injury and so I can’t grab the torch and pitchforks if they got this one wrong. It’s unfortunate, but it is no one’s fault. These things happen sometimes.
Tactically speaking, breaking down these teams that want to sit in a very low block is becoming a recurring problem. I would like to see us press these sides a bit more and then push hard on the break once we recover the ball, but admittedly this would make us more susceptible to a counter press and getting caught in transition ourselves. At any rate, it’s something we are going to have to sort out as the year goes on. Huesca, Cadiz, Maccabi, now Elche, these sorts of results are starting to pile up.
This result leaves us in a less comfortable position than our current place in the table might suggest. Yes, we are in third, but we have also played more matches than the teams in first (Atleti), fourth (Madrid), sixth (Sevilla), seventh (Granada), ninth (Barcelona), and tenth (Elche). It won’t happen this way, but let’s just suppose all these teams won their games in hand. Atleti would be 8 points ahead of us, Madrid 5, Sevilla tied, Granada only 3 points behind, Elche and Granada only 1 point behind. As these matches actually play out, a lot of them will be draws or losses of course, but we could very easily see ourselves drop from third to fifth or sixth when the games are caught up if we don’t start getting wins.
We have Qarabag in a match that doesn’t matter on Thursday. Expect a LOT of kids on the pitch, then a big one with Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis, who have conceded more goals than anyone in La Liga. We’ll see how that one goes.
In the meantime, keep an eye out this week for a piece on Kubo’s last two performances (he was very good against Elche), a podcast, an update on the women’s team, and hopefully a Q and A with a Betico in addition to our normal match previews and gamethreads. Endavant!