I think we can all agree Dani Parejo has not been dominant in his first couple of matches at Villarreal. Whether he’s been good or bad overall, though, seems to be a topic of some debate among the supporters. So, what I wanted to do here was break down some of his numbers, compare it to what he’s done in years past, and try to get a sense of exactly what he’s given us so far. Keep in mind that two matches is still an extremely small sample size, and that when evaluating deeper lying central midfielders the key is nuance. If you expected Parejo to score or assist a goal every match I think you had the wrong expectations to begin with.
The Center of our Passing Game
The first thing I want us to look at is this pass map from the Huesca match. In the aftermath of that contest our focus in relation to this visual was on Pedraza and Moi not really connecting and Paco being isolated, but look at it again and see Parejo’s involvement.
The way this map works is that the more times a player passes to another, the thicker the line between them gets in that direction. As you can see, Dani Parejo was in the center of absolutely everything against Huesca. He was a consistent receiver for both center backs, hooked up very well with Pedraza and Moi both giving and receiving, and was Pena’s favorite outlet.
What you’ll also see here is that Coquelin doesn’t really do much in the passing game. He kicked it out to Pena some, received the ball from Albiol quite a bit, and had a small amount of interplay with Parejo. What this means is that against Huesca, Parejo was carrying the entire central passing burden by himself. According to Whoscored, Dani attempted 91 passes in that match, completing 79 of them. No one who wasn’t a defender attempted half that many passes. Parejo also, per Whoscored, completed all seven of his long balls. I would have to go back and look but I think these were mostly switches of play.
Against Eibar, Parejo was far less involved. He attempted 54 passes which were still more than anyone other than Pau or Albiol, but a far cry from his involvement in the opening week. It’s also worth noting though that Sergio Asenjo attempted 11 more passes against Eibar than he did Huesca, and many of them were just him booting it long to avoid Eibar’s high press. Coquelin and Iborra combined only attempted 44 passes.
Handling a high volume of passes is fine, but what is Parejo doing with them? I mentioned above that we shouldn’t expect a ton of goals and assists from Parejo. Since 2010, 27/66 goals have been from the penalty spot and 24/56 of his assists have been from dead ball situations, so when the ball is in open play it’s never been his game to be the one providing the final ball or shot consistently.
In the three full seasons it has been recorded on fbref, Parejo has averaged between three and four shot creating actions (which include passes before an assist of a shot, chances directly created through a pass, dribbles that create a shot, and fouls won that lead to a shot) per 90 minutes. About half of those have been from dead ball situations. Parejo is not the one currently taking free kicks in the attacking third for us, so not surprisingly his SCA numbers are a bit down, but from open play he’s as good as ever.
So far this season, he’s dribbling less than he has in years past, but he’s completed all his dribbles. His overall touches are down considerably and so not surprisingly so is his progressive distance. His progressive distance per pass is also down slightly but again, we are working on a very small sample size so far.
In early days at Villarreal Parejo’s defensive contribution has not matched his days at Valencia. He has yet to complete a tackle (per fbref) and he is pressing less than he has the three previous seasons, though his pass interception rate has been about the same. Of course, half his sample size is Eibar who are notorious for not attacking through the middle, so this has without question unduly impacted his numbers. I’ll want to check back on these in about a month to see where he stands.
I think Parejo had a very good game against Huesca and then against Eibar was simply part of a game that was mostly fought out on the wings. We haven’t seen a vintage imperious display from him yet but I still think he’s been very good at his role. I would love to see him and Trigueros get some time together on the pitch so that he has a more eloquent passer to work with in the middle, and ideally for me that would come in the form of a 433 where we play the two of them above Coquelin or Iborra in a holding role. I’m just as high on this signing today as I was when it happened, and I look forward to seeing what he does the rest of the year.