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Assessing Villarreal’s Central Midfielders: No Shortage of Quality but Age a Concern

Following the fantastic Europa League victory, which has resulted in Champions League qualification, we take a look at the areas in which Villarreal need to strengthen their squad.

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In the Villarreal midfield, there is a good range of different profiles, and quality in abundance, but this is an area for Unai Emery and Fernando Roig to address in the summer for a number of reasons. The roster of central midfielders currently stands at:

Etienne Capoue – age 32

Dani Parejo – age 31

Manu Trigueros – age 28

Vincente Iborra – age 32

Francis Coquelin – age 29

Manu Morlanes – age 22

Three of these players are over 30, Coquelin is 29 and Morlanes was on loan at Almeria in Segunda last season. I think six central midfielders is a good number to be able to compete in La Liga and the Champions League, but this current crop needs adjusting. Iborra, Capoue and Coquelin are more defensive minded, and a player with defensive awareness and athleticism is needed in this position to complement the skillset of the more attacking three. I would therefore suggest one in, one out in this position, and the player I would choose to sell is Coquelin. Given that Iborra has been missing for most of the season with a cruciate ligament injury, as well as his age, there would be no buyers for him. Capoue has been fantastic since his signing in January, whilst Coquelin has either been injured or underwhelming since his arrival.

Iborra and Capoue are also both strong characters in the dressing room with fantastic leadership qualities – Iborra’s team talk before the final and Capoue’s interviews after both help illustrate this, and their experience could be very useful in the Champions League. I would therefore sell Coquelin and replace him with someone below the age of 25, with good tackling ability as well as mobility to cover a lot of distance.

Looking at the three more progressive midfielders, Morlanes has had a very good season out on loan at Almeria and can definitely compete for a place in the team this season, whilst Parejo and Trigueros have more than enough quality to start in the Champions League. With an eye to the future, Villarreal have been linked with Matteo Guendouzi of Arsenal in this position, but given the emergence of Morlanes, this position is suitably filled for the time being. Trigueros has also proven to be versatile this season, starting on the left in a 442 during the Europa League run, and can also partner Parejo should Emery shift to a 433 or 4231 shape.

Given that Emery has often operated with a 433 or 442, a specialist advanced #10 does not seem to be necessary in this squad, but should he move to a 4231, Alejandro Baena looks very promising in that position, and there are strong links to Amine Harit of Schalke who can play there.

If Villarreal do go shopping in Schalke, in addition to Harit, Spanish midfielder Omar Mascarell could be an option to replace Coquelin. He fits a similar defensive profile to Capoue, scoring well on blocks and interception statistics, and at 28 years old, is younger and potentially an upgrade on him. However, someone even younger would be more desirable, unless Iborra were to leave as well.

Overall, Villarreal’s midfield is an area of strength, and whilst it is not an area which needs to be prioritised in the transfer market, the age profiles are the main cause of concern rather than a lack of quality. Capoue and Parejo are more than capable of being the first-choice options for one more season, but younger depth is required.