No worldwide pandemic is going to keep me from watching football, so I dug into the archives and found the footage of the 2005-2006 3rd qualifying round of the UEFA Champions Leauge second leg between Villarreal and Everton at La Ceramica. We were already leading 2-1, and the winner of the tie would advance to the group stages of the Champions League. Without this win, our run to the semis that season would have been impossible.
Villarreal: Barbosa, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Arruabarrena, Forlan, Josico, Riquelme, Figueroa, Sorin, Q. Alvarez, Javi Venta, Senna
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Everton: Martyn, Yobo, Weir, Arteta, Bent, Ferguson, Davies, Kilbane, Cahill, P. Neville, Hibbert
Manager: David Moyes
Josico and Figueroa had both scored in the first leg at Goodison Park to give us a 2-1 advantage going home for the second leg. The referee for the second leg would be Italian legend Pierluigi Collina, named the best referee on the planet six times. This would be his final match as a professional official. A young Santi Cazorla observed the match as an unused substitute for the Yellow Submarine. Current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, Three Lions women’s coach Phil Neville, and current Everton assistant manager Duncan Ferguson all lined up for the visitors. John Champion was on the call.
Both sides lined up in a 442 formation, but the philosophies behind them were drastically different. Moyes had his men in a diamond, while Pelligrini, as we all know, was putting out what started as a flat 442 but in practice worked more as a 4222 with the outside midfielders cutting into forward channels.
In the first minute of the match, a foul called on the ever physical Duncan Ferguson in holdup play gives us a foreshadowing of what is to come for Everton strikers with the famous referee.
This Villarreal side was a clinic on beautiful football. You could drop this side into the modern game and it would look like the 2018 Ajax side that stormed through Europe, only perhaps with more experience and a bit more refinement. This still from the 8th minute captures the balance of this side perfectly:
Three options to pass to creates a situation where three Everton players have to cover four men, and the situation resolves too quickly for an extra defender to arrive to help. This is the essence of sustained possession on the football pitch, never giving your opponent the chance to make a serious play on the ball until you attempt the final sequence of a move. This reality repeated itself all night. By contrast, when Everton had the ball in similar positions you might see one short passing option for the man on the ball but everyone else would either be well behind him guarding the back or well ahead looking for long balls. This allowed Villarreal to pressure the ball with multiple people and force bad decisions by their opponents.
The most interesting tactical wrinkle Everton brought to this match was treating long throws near the box as de facto corners, with long throws by Phil Neville. They did this a few times on the night and frankly it is something football clubs should do more often.
The initial deadlock was broken by a wonderful goal from Sorin. Everton committed too many men forward on a counter attack and did not track back effectively. A through ball by Riquelme set Sorin into open space where the defenders had no particularly good decisions to make:
Two exchanges between Sorin and Riquelme created this situation, with Sorin’s run combining with Villarreal’s overall spacing to open up the defense. Simon Davies, who had been heavily involved in Everton’s previous break, was the key player at fault and out of position. A midfielder named Davies out of position in an important defensive sequence shows not much has changed at Everton in the last 14 years.
In a curious item related to this match, the commentators mentioned early on that outside of the designated away end there were pockets of Everton supporters all around the stadium. We see in the 27’ one of them getting pulled off a Villarreal fan by security and being escorted away. As an American the designated away fan areas are a bit foreign to my professional sports experience but clearly we can see why they are necessarily in soccer.
Halftime came at a great time for the Toffees because Forlan was growing more and more immense as the first half went on. This was a football era pre-xG but I have to feel like it would have been a category dominated by Villarreal. It’s worth noting that Duncan Ferguson was called for at least four fouls in the first half, and the narrative of Everton (Kilbane and Ferguson the main antagonists) being physical to the point of fouling would certainly have been in Collina’s mind at the half. In a pre-VAR era this would end up making a huge difference later on in the match.
The second half opened with the visitors attacking with far more insistence than we saw at any point in the first half. Early on a long ball comes into the box that any keeper today would have certainly caught, but Barbosa, perhaps a product of his era, bats it as far away as he can. Everton being on the front foot was concisely ended with a rocket of a shot from Forlan on the break which signaled Villarreal was tired of playing defense.
Mikel Arteta tied the game up with a wonderful free kick earned by Phil Neville against Gonzalo on the outside edge of the box, meaning the Toffees needed only one goal to earn extra time. Barbosa had no chance:
This set up the most controversial moment of the match. Duncan Ferguson earned a corner off a tremendous header and in the corner that followed, won yet another aerial battle to put the ball in the back of the net. Pierluigi Collina appeared to point to the center circle before waving off the goal and calling a foul against Everton. The foul went against Marcus Bent, but it was the same sort of pushes and shoves that Collina had been calling against Ferguson and Everton all night long. The Blue half of Mersey would have you think Collina was a cheat; I personally think that the ref had set a standard early on for how he was going to call the game and Everton’s forwards chose to ignore it. Some would say that standard of officiating was too tight, but frankly if it was that’s only because Everton was not good enough at playing positive football to win a match against Villarreal in that fashion.
After this Everton scrambled to get the goal they needed to no avail, and forcing themselves forward eventually cost them. Diego Forlan would finally get a well deserved goal in stoppage time and Villarreal would go on to their greatest European heights, reaching the Champions League semi-finals, but it was all made possible by the fact that David Moyes’ Everton came to Villarreal not knowing how to play football without fouling people.
Want to hear an Everton take on this match? Read part two here.
You can see the highlights from the match here: