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Bad Luck in Shootout Costs Villarreal Dearly Despite Impressive Showing in Super Cup Defeat

Penalties were not the saviour this time in Belfast.

Chelsea FC v Villarreal CF - UEFA Super Cup 2021 Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The Story of the Super Cup

Villarreal should be proud of their display in the UEFA Super Cup. Despite missing key players such as Dani Parejo and Samuel Chukwueze, holding the European champions to a 1-1 draw before losing on penalties is no easy feat. This is even more impressive when you consider that Kai Havertz cost more than the entire Villarreal starting XI combined.

Villarreal started the first half poorly, with a similar sluggishness in possession as has been the case throughout the entire winless pre-season campaign. Chelsea came close through efforts from Werner and Kante before eventually taking the lead in the 27th minute through Hakim Ziyech. It was clear that Chelsea’s plan was to spread the ball wide and fire in dangerous crosses, which the centre backs had dealt with prior to the goal. A through ball to Havertz on the left wing allowed him to cross to the Moroccan winger, who was completely unmarked to bounce the ball in. Whilst it was an impressive team move from the English side, the Yellow Submarine should have been disappointed to concede such a simple goal, with left-back Pedraza particularly guilty for leaving Ziyech in so much space.

Pedraza allowed Ziyech too much time in the box to finish, due to his poor positioning and marking. This came in a shaky period for Villarreal where Chelsea were applying a lot of pressure on the yellow’s box.

However, towards the end of the half, Villarreal had found their feet, and were incredibly unlucky not to equalise on the stroke of half time. Gerard Moreno displayed some impressive footwork in the box before floating a cross over to the far post, where his namesake Alberto Moreno smashed a powerful volley onto the crossbar from close range.

Villarreal started the second half well and were nearly gifted a goal following a poor goal kick from Edouard Mendy, but he redeemed himself with a fingertip save to divert Gerard’s effort onto the post. Gerard would have the last laugh however, as in the 73rd minute new strike partner Boulaye Dia executed a perfectly weighted backheel for Gerard to curl into the top corner with his weaker right foot. It was a fully deserved goal after spells of attacking dominance in the second half, and the scores ended level after 90 minutes.

Both teams looked exhausted in extra time, and Sergio Asenjo had to pull off some superb saves from Mason Mount before the shootout.

Asenjo impressed in the shootout as well, saving the first effort from Havertz, and was unlucky to not save a fantastic effort from Azpilicueta despite guessing the right way, but the shootout luck from Gdansk was not present in Belfast as Mandi and Albiol had their efforts saved to deny Villarreal a second trophy this year.

The New Striker

Boulaye Dia, making his competitive debut following his £12m move from Reims this summer, had a good game. He initially struggled to keep hold of the ball as the team were under pressure in the first half, but already his good movement and work rate were visible: despite his larger frame and disrupted pre-season, he did not lack mobility, and this helped create space for Gerard as a front two. In the second half Dia saw more of the ball and caused Chelsea problems with his movement inside the box, before eventually linking well with Gerard to create the goal. His performance overall was very encouraging and showed that he offers power and mobility beyond the other strikers in the squad following the departure of Carlos Bacca.

There are already signs that Dia and Gerard could form a strong partnership upfront, and having scored 14 goals in Ligue 1 last season, it would be a front line which could threaten in transition as well as in possession more than last season, due to Dia’s physical superiority to Paco Alcacer and Bacca.

A Squad of Left Backs?

Villarreal currently have three first team left backs in the squad: Alfonso Pedraza, Alberto Moreno and Pervis Estupinan. There have been rumours all summer about one of them leaving for more gametime, with Pedraza linked to Chelsea and Estupinan to Napoli, but yesterday’s match highlighted the benefits of all three staying.

Both Pedraza and Moreno started, with Pedraza as a left back and Moreno playing in an advanced left-wing role, with Estupinan coming on for Pedraza in the second half. Although Pedraza was at fault for the goal due to his poor marking, he had a strong campaign last season and offers a lot going forward. Alberto Moreno has a reputation for possessing great pace, but being suspect defensively, whilst Estupinan, although stronger defensively than the other two, is slower on the counter-attack.

Moreno thrived in his more advanced role without having to worry too much about defending, and his sheer pace offers Villarreal an out-ball when defending deep, which is vital when playing against teams who dominate the ball. Estupinan came on and was excellent both ways, as he often found himself in the opposition third ready to cross.

Villarreal are after a left winger as a priority position this summer, having had bids for Arnaut Danjuma rejected, and have been linked with Goncalo Guedes of Valencia. Whilst this still remains a position of need, a case can be made for all three left backs staying, and playing two of them in bigger games for extra solidity and a more direct threat than what Moi Gomez can offer.

Looking Ahead

Overall, Villarreal should be very satisfied with the performance in the Super Cup, and it provides a lot of encouragement for the start of the season. The Yellows start the season at home to Granada on Monday night followed by a trip to Espanyol. Once Parejo and Chukwueze return, along with a new left winger, the squad should be well placed to compete on two fronts in La Liga and the Champions League, and a push for top 4 should be the aim.