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The Value of Manu Trigueros to Villarreal’s Midfield

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Unai Emery’s side will greatly miss the midfielder against Real Betis

Levante UD V Villarreal CF - Copa Del Rey Photo by Maria Jose S. / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images

Okay, I’m gonna be real honest... a few things happened that inspired this article, and neither is likely to be what you’re thinking. First, we have a Sunday match this week so it’s too early to write the match preview, then, we were otherwise short on news because we flamed out of the Copa and so don’t have a midweek match this week. That would normally leave me scrambling and when I scramble for content I usually find something stat-nerd adjacent to do for the site. BUT THEN, fbref, one of my two favorite analytics sites, released scouting profiles on their site yesterday, and I just gotta take that for a test drive. Have to. So, here’s what Manu Trigueros does, and why he’s crucial to Villarreal even if you don’t realize it.

The first element in analyzing Trigueros’ game is to decide how you are going to evaluate him. Is he, for you, a central midfielder or is more of an attacking mid? In every analytics based metric system I am aware of, that creates entirely different expectations for a player. I went over to my other favorite analytics site, smarterscout, to see what they had to say. Manu and I have a special relationship on smarterscout because if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be findable on the site. They had his name misspelled in the database so I sent their founder, Dan Altman a message and he fixed it. Anyway, Dan has Manu listed as a CM for 789 of his minutes this season and as a RM for 336 more. Translate that over to fbref and that sounds very ‘midfielder’ heavy to me as opposed to ‘attacking midfielder/winger’. I tend to think of CMs as one of three things, a 6, 8, or 10. Depending on where in the world you are, those numbers may sound all wrong to you, but for me the 6 is your defensive mid, the 10 is your central attacking mid, and the 8s are some sort of combination of the two. For me, Emery plays Manu and Parejo both as 8s though as slightly different types of 8s.

Possession

So, after over 350 words of introduction, let’s have a look at some of Manu’s stats in relation to other CMs for the 2020-2021 season so far.

fbref.com

For each number you get a percentile stat, which simply tells you how often he does each of these things in relation to other CM’s. The big numbers on this first data set are progressive passing distance and progressive passes, where he’s solidly above average, and also passes into the final third, and passes into the penalty area. In these last two numbers he’s not just above average he’s downright good.

We talked about this a little in our Parejo piece a couple weeks ago, but what ultimately happens a lot in Emery’s system is the DM or fullbacks get the ball into Parejo, and Parejo then distributes it to one of Moi, Manu, or Gerard who then generate the offense from there. If Manu gets the ball deeper, a lot of times he immediately sends it to either Parejo or his fullback, then moves up the pitch to get it in a zone where he can then play a pass that is dangerous to the opposing defense. It works really well and so far he leads the team in assists in the league while being third in shot creating actions (86th percentile for shot creating actions among CMs in the top five leagues in Europe). One interesting thing I found while pouring through the data is that Parejo and Trigueros make a similar number of passes under pressure, despite the fact that Dani has the ball more often. So Manu gets pressed on a higher percentage of his passes overall but it doesn’t seem to bother him.

Defense

It’s possible at this point that some of you may be saying ‘well of course Manu is fine in possession, but what about his defense? Well here are the numbers on that.

fbref.com

Despite being our midfielder whose average position is most agressive going forward, Manu still plays his share of defense. The tackle in interception numbers are quite low, but I personally wouldn’t expect someone in his role to be hoovering up the ball. What you will notice is that he’s a very active presser of the ball, especially in the attacking third and defensive third. Him having good numbers in both those areas of the pitch tells me that he’s not just looking for a turnover when he has the chance to attack immediately after, but he’s also tracking back to try to win the ball when we are backed into our own half.

He’s not a particularly good tackler (only 28% completed) but he’s willing to give it a go, which considering he’s not our defensive mid is good enough for me.

Odds and Ends

Other numbers on Manu worth pointing out, he draws an extremely high rate of fouls for a central midfielder (83%). Some of that is the fact that he’s getting counted in the same pile of data as guys like Iborra and Capoue, but consider for instance that Luka Modric is in the 58th percentile in the same number I’m still impressed.

He also receives a pretty low percentage of passes sent his way, only 87.6%, but he also receives more progressive passes than average, so I think what’s happening is people are trying riskier passes into Manu and not all of them make it.

They have a ‘similar players’ function on fbref, and if you’re curious, Manu’s two closest comparisons were Denis Suarez and Joan Jordan. Jordan also had Manu as his closes comparison, and I think the two of them are fairly comparable.

Concluding thoughts

Manu and Parejo are a duo in possession that is often overwhelming to opponents attempts to win the ball. Trigueros is, for me, one of La Liga’s most underappreciated midfielders and has been for a long time. He’s a loyal club servant who took a back seat when Santi came back, and I’m thrilled to see him return as a fixture in the starting XI.