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If Jaume Costa comes back to Villarreal, should he start?

He would battle Alberto Moreno for the job of left back at Villarreal.

Levante v Villarreal - La Liga Santander Photo by Maria Jose Segovia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As the mass exodus from Valencia begins, even their captain isn’t going down with the ship. Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin are reportedly joining Villarreal very soon. With them comes back a familiar face in Jaume Costa, who. after his issues with Javi Calleja, seems to be excited about coming home.

In his absence, the club signed Alberto Moreno and Xavi Quintilla. Neither player really put their mark on the left back position last season, and the open question remains who should start in that role should they all be back in the side when the season starts in September.

For me, Quintilla should be in the mix regardless. He’s only 23, much younger than either Alberto or Jaume, so whichever of the older two you decide is your guy I would move on from the other one and run Quintilla as a backup or as a rotation with him. Therefore, our comparison will focus on Moreno and Costa. First, a quick peak at the statistics, with Costa and Moreno compared then Quintilla by himself below:

By reputation, you would probably expect Alberto to be the more offensive fullback and Jaume to be the more defensive, but that’s not really how it shaped up last season. Both players had nearly identical expected assists per 90 and it was Costa who had the edge in passes into the final third while Alberto covered more progressive distance. More important- to me, anyway- is that Jaume was dispossessed far less and had a higher dribble success rate. If we aren’t going to have an offensive dynamo at fullback then he better take good care of the ball.

Adjusted for possession, Alberto actually had slightly better numbers in tackles and interceptions, but I think that comes down to a tactical difference between Villarreal and Valencia. We pressed a bit more than they did (about 300 times more on the season) and we asked our fullbacks to be very involved in that in the defensive half. With Santi and Chukwueze as the wide midfielders (in the 442) if we were going to recover the ball in wide areas it had to be done by the fullbacks.

There’s been some discussion with regards to Alberto about his ‘crossing numbers’. I do want to point out that Alberto crossed the ball less last year than he has at almost any point in his career, and yet per 90 minutes he crossed the ball the same amount as Costa (1.9/90).

Here’s a visualization of where on the pitch Costa and Moreno did most of their work last season:

These action maps are pretty darn similar. Maybe Moreno is a bit more active in the defensive third near the box? But that could be partly tactical. I took a glance at smarterscout’s model rankings while I was pulling those graphics and they would suggest that actually Moreno is the better player, or at least was last season.

Alberto Moreno: 2019-2020
Jaume Costa: 2019-2020

I think the bottom line here is that we don’t have a clear winner for the left back role. Both older players are probably better than Quintilla, so maybe the plan is to send the kid on loan, but I know last season I got really fed up with Alberto’s defensive decision making so if we just shipped him out I wouldn’t mind that either. Prefer who you will, I don’t think I’d argue much either way. I think Villarreal owns three serviceable LBs but no one who makes me particularly excited.