Villarreal bring in their second official transfer of the summer for the men’s first team as Aissa Mandi moves to the club on a free from Real Betis. After securing the services of Juan Foyth permanently, the club has now added another defender to improve our depth.
This move does a couple of things. First, it confirms that the primary idea for the Foyth signing was to continue using him as a right back. Second, it gives us a third reliable La Liga level starter at the CB position, which is crucial because Raul Albiol and Pau Torres have played over 12,000 combined minutes the last two seasons.
So what sort of player is Villarreal getting? Let’s break down some of his numbers from last season. Mandi started 27 matches for the 6th place team in La Liga, and surprisingly (to me at least) scored three goals. All three of those goals were scored off set pieces, two with his head. Over 60% of this shot attempts came with his head this past season and all came on set pieces. I don’t know that he’s good enough in the air to say we dramatically improved our set piece targets by adding him, but that situational threat in front of goal is definitely something he has in his bag. He won 66% of his aerial duels overall, better than either of our starting CBs from last term.
He also completed 57% of this tackles against dribblers this season, which is a very good number. For comparison, Albiol completed 50% and Pau completed 33% this season. (The attempts on this sort of number are fairly low, so don’t be bothered by Pau’s number too much, he was 5/15 on the year facing dribblers. Central midfielders face far more dribblers than central defenders.) Mandi also blocked more than one shot per 90 and committed no errors last season that led directly to an opponent’s shot.
Overall, I think we got a very solid defender who is, in the air, an upgrade over our current CB options. While it will take him some time to develop chemistry on the pitch, I think we finally have the CB depth necessary to not have to play Albiol and Pau every single match. Getting better without having to pay other clubs transfer fees is something Villarreal excels at, and I think they’ve done it again.