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Reacting to Villarreal’ third La Liga loss of the season, the day after

Things are not in great position for Unai Emery’s men at the moment.

Elche CF v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Let me get a couple things out of the way at the outset of this article. 1. As abysmal as Gil Manzano blowing his whistle in the 95th minute was to cost us the goal, the penalty he gave us was an equally bad call, so for me they leveled one another out. 2. Even suggesting moving on from Unai Emery at this point in the season is absurd beyond belief and shouldn’t be taken seriously. We are still two places in the league ahead of where we were last season at this juncture despite the unbelievable pile of injuries we face week after week.

That said, I think Emery got the formation flat out wrong in this one. With Trigueros suspended and every real defensive midfielder we own hurt, a 442 that limited the burden on central midfield would have made so much more sense than a 433. I’m all for the three man midfield in most instances. Our best form of the season came in that formation. But when two of those midfielders are Alex Baena and Juan Foyth, you just can’t expect to beat a side coached by Manuel Pellegrini.

At the time I wrote this, fbref hadn’t posted their xG projection yet, and their model is much more sophisticated, and for my money, accurate, than just about anyone else’s out there. However, Understat had us losing the xG 1.18 to 1.34, and 0.74 of our xG was from the penalty, which sums up how broken the offense was.

As I commented on Robin’s post match report, our offense is ultimately over reliant on one particular pattern of play. Emery wants the ball to go to Parejo, and then have Parejo spread it out to Moi, Manu, and Gerard to create the chances. Against low-block teams, Parejo doesn’t move the ball fast enough for this to be especially effective. When any of those pieces are missing (and at least one of them has been missing for most of our matches this year) then we don’t have good options behind them to replicate the mechanism. Emery should be doing a better job than this coming up with alternative ideas. Yesterday, the alternative idea (in my opinion) was to play both LBs in a 442 and slide Moi Gomez into a double pivot with Parejo.

People are sick of hearing about the injuries, and I completely understand that. Everyone deals with them, and we do have some depth, but the way they get brushed aside as irrelevant is going too far the other way. I don’t think many Villarreal fans fully appreciate the impact that losing Iborra has had on this team. Capoue is solid, but he’s just not the same caliber of player (plus has missed significant time. Coquelin has been a complete non-entity, having been hurt most of the year in one way or another. Gerard is our most important offensive player, and he’s missed massive portions of the season, plus it seems like Paco’s lengthy time out has had a prolonged effect as he hasn’t been able to find his form yet. Chukwueze being out means there’s no alternative to Gerard whatsoever on the right. We’ve had times this season where we had no true right back whatsoever available.

There are things Unai Emery can do better, but it’s just disrespectful to look at that list of problems (which doesn’t even sum up all the injuries) and then act like being in 5th place in La Liga is an absolute disaster. We’ve got a lot to figure out before the Europa tie, but the only side in La Liga with fewer losses than us is Atletico, and as sick as we get of draws that still means we are doing something right.

A stoppage time equalizer conceded to Real Sociedad, a stoppage time missed penalty against Granada, a stoppage time equalizer wrongly stopped by an ill-timed Gil Manzano whistle vs Betis... We’re kinda getting to the point where I want matches to end 90 minutes on the dot, just for the sake of my blood pressure.

Worth Noting: Gil Manzano gave Unai Emery a red card after the match so we likely won’t have him against Athletic Club