Villarreal made just one change from their opening day draw with Huesca: one-club man Mario Gaspar came in at right back, replacing the injured Ruben Pena, and took the captain’s armband. Francis Coquelin, who was substituted off on a stretcher last week, was passed fit to start in a defensive midfield role. Alfonso Pedraza, who was at fault for Huesca’s opener, kept his place at left back ahead of new signing Pervis Estupinan, whose transfer from Watford was announced earlier this week.
Villarreal lined up in a 442 shape, with the two star strikers Paco Alcacer and Gerard Moreno together as a front two. Samuel Chukwueze played as an advanced inside forward, cutting in from the right onto his stronger left foot, whilst Moi Gomez played a similar but slightly deeper role on the opposite flank.
The story of the game
Villarreal started strongly, and created a number of opportunities, but were also caught out by Eibar’s offside trap on a number of occasions. Villarreal thought they had the breakthrough, when Gerard applied a clinical finish to a cross from Moi Gomez, but this was correctly ruled out by VAR for offside. Chukwueze and Gerard linked up well on the right hand side, which resulted in a number of shots on goal, but they could not find the breakthrough in the first half.
At the start of the second half, Dani Parejo was dispossessed in midfield, and a pinpoint through ball from Edu Expósito allowed striker Kike Garcia to round the goalkeeper and kept his composure to put the away side 1-0 up. Villarreal found an equaliser 10 minutes later through their star striker Gerard. Substitute Estupinan, who came on for his debut just minutes before, floated a cross from the left to winger Chukwueze, who slotted a pass to Gerard on the edge of the 6-yard box. Gerard then executed a fantastic turn to find space and cooly finished into the bottom left corner with his weaker right foot. Minutes later, the submarine took the lead for the first time this season. A nice passing move from the back led to Gerard feeding a pass through to Alcacer, who took it wide but managed to find the back of the net. A VAR check confirmed Paco was onside, and the goal stood. Villarreal started to play well after finding the winner, and created a few opportunities to extend their lead, but the game ultimately finished 2-1.
The stats reflect a very accomplished performance for Villarreal. They dominated on possession (59% - 41%), shots on target (8-4) and expected goals (2.99 – 1.11).
Gerard led in individual XG, with an impressive 1.19 during the game, seconded only by his strike partner Alcacer, who totalled 0.90. This is promising for Emery, as it provides an indication that his strikers are providing a goal threat, and if this is sustained over the season then both forwards will have very successful campaigns. However, it is also notable that the midfielders in the side provided a limited goal threat in this sense. Going forward, Samuel Chukwueze would ideally see a higher XG than 0.15, and whilst his overall performance was encouraging, his goal threat was limited because of the regularity in which he was caught offside.
A key difference between this match and last week’s performance vs Eibar was the selection of Mario Gaspar at right back. Mario not only looked solid in defence but proved to be a key figure in an attacking sense, registering 0.98 XA (expected assists). This was the highest figure in the team and looking ahead may lead to him keeping his place ahead of Ruben Pena, who by contrast did not create a single chance against Huesca.
Unai Emery has never been a manager to keep a consistent starting XI, having not named a single unchanged line-up in his entire Arsenal tenure, but these first two team selections indicate that he is pretty set on his team. 442 allows both strikers to play in their natural positions; playing Gerard on the wings was an option as he has played there before, but this would limit his significant goal threat. Gerard starts as the right sided centre forward, which allows him to create space to shoot with his stronger left foot, and he roams from position more than Paco, who stays further forward. Gerard and Chukwueze have linked well on the right in both games this season, often interchanging positions, and Gerard often drops deeper when the team has possession.
Here you can see that when Villarreal are in possession, that Gerard often drops back closer to midfield, whilst Paco would consistently push further forward. This is not absolute though, as Gerard would often roam further forward himself to instigate the team press; his athletic attributes make him important in a role where he would cover a lot of ground all over the pitch.
Eibar are a team known for their impressive pressing game, and played a high line throughout the match. Whilst this exposed them to the threat of being caught on the counter, their ability to consistently play an effective offside trap meant that it was a frustrating afternoon for Chukwueze, who was flagged offside three times when finding himself in promising attacking positions.
Villarreal often tried to play from the back to beat Eibar’s high press, but often found it difficult and occasionally lost possession in dangerous areas as a result.
Here the high press from Eibar put Villarreal in difficulty, and Raul Albiol (circled) ended up losing possession when trying to play out from the back. The positioning of the defence and midfield pivot in this sequence was inadequate to beat the press; Parejo dropped in between the centre backs but was not in enough space to make himself a passing option, and Eibar covered the angles well to close the passing lane to Mario on the right. This was a common theme when Villarreal played from the back and is something for the team and coach to work on throughout the season.
Player of the Match
It was tough to pick a candidate as the whole team played fairly well, but Gerard Moreno stood out for me yet again as the star player. With a goal and an assist, as well as linking play well and leading the press, Villarreal’s number 7 seems to be improving as time goes on. As the top Spanish goal scorer last season in La Liga, he will be hoping that this fine form leads to a starting place for the Spanish national team in the Euros next summer.
Up next for Villarreal is a tough one: Barcelona away, on September 27. This will be Barcelona’s opening match of the season, due to their late start because of Champions league commitments, and their first competitive fixture since the 8-2 thrashing by Bayern Munich. After a chaotic summer which saw Ronald Koeman join the club and Lionel Messi threaten to leave, Villarreal might hope to take full advantage as the better prepared team and fight for a positive result.
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Stats via understat.com