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The comprehensive guide to Villarreal’s Conference League opponents Hajduk Split

The Yellows will be hoping to qualify for the Conference League with a win over the Croatian side

Everton FC v Hajduk Split - UEFA Europa League Qualifying Play-Offs Round: First Leg
Hadjuk will face Villarreal on Thursday night
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Hajduk Split eliminated Vitoria Guimaraes by an aggregate score of 3-2 to advance to the play-off round to face against Villarreal.

One of the best teams, barring Dinamo Zagreb, they are currently owned by the City of Split, who holds the 65.92% of the shares (yeah, that’s right, the city is the majority owner of the club).

Their ultras Torcida, through the platform Naš Hajduk, own 30.12%, therefore being minority owners.

But let’s go deep down on who they are in football terms.

The league

The Croatian league, known as 1. HNL is contested by 10 teams who play four rounds against each other for a total of 36 matches.

The winner enters the Champions League while the second and the third enter the Conference League, while the bottom team is relegated to the 2. HNL.

Currently, Hajduk sits 3rd with 6 points (2 wins and a loss) after 5 rounds of fixtures, two points behind the 2nd (surprisingly Slaven Koprivnica) and seven points behind their main rival Dinamo Zagreb.

They have their gameweek 2 match against Rijeka and their gameweek 4 match against Gorica postponed. Their last match was against Dinamo, who beat them 4-1 after a comeback.

The coach

Valdas Dambrauskas is the current coach of the club since November 2021, when they sacked their coach after seeing themselves in 4th position in the table.

With Dambrauskas at the helm, they managed to overturn their form, ending 2nd, which is their best result since the 2011/12 season, with former LaLiga player Marko Livaja winning the topscorer trophy.

And they also won the Croatian cup, beating Rijeka at the final. Dambrauskas likes to use the 4-2-3-1, but he can also go with the 4-3-3

The system

They play a 4-2-3-1, with Lovre Kalinic as the goalkeeper, who also serves as the captain.

The fullbacks are Melnjak on the left, while on the right, they have two good choices, the veteran Lovrencsics or Mikanovic.

Against Villarreal, I expect Mikanovic to be the starter. The pair of center-back can be quite possible Borevkovic and Simic.

Borevkovic missed both games of the Conference League, but considering he is loaned by that very team, that explains it, even though UEFA doesn’t officially allow those kinds of deals.

The midfield can be quite interesting. Vukovic and Grgic are favored to take the defensive part duties. with the possibility of trading Vukovic with the youngstar Atanasov.

The front three is comprised of one attacking midfielder and two wingers. The attacking midfielder is Krovinovic, the second best player of the team.

One wing is for Biuk (rumored to have Sampdoria following him), who always goes in the left, while on the right Sahiti is favored over other options Mlakar or Eduok.

The center forward is star man, Mr. Marko Livaja. This is mainly their best XI, on the bench, they have some interesting options like Fossatti or Nikola Kalinic - if they are healthy for the match due to recently battling with undisclosed injuries.

The rest of the team are not so experienced in European competition or the top leagues.

The tactics

As mentioned before, their primary system is the 4-2-3-1, with the 4-3-3 being another option.

Their way of playing it is more akin to a 4-3-3, where you have two defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder.

When on the ball, their fullbacks open the field to allow easier passing, with Grgic dropping down to receive and play the ball.

Krovinovic looks for gaps between lines to receive the ball and looks for a change of direction.

Here is where the wingers and fullbacks enter. Normally, the right back joins the attack a little more than the left one.

When opening the field, the ball travels from one line to the other. The main work of Livaja is receiving with his back turned to goal from one wing, offload into Krovinovic, and he changes the ball to the other wing, where you see the cross to Livaja who is running inside the box.

In general, they like to sit back and let the rival have the ball, winning back the ball and start a counter attack. If they have to have the initiative, they will play short passes, with the occasional long ball.

In defence, they tend to be a 4-3-2-1, but their retreat is lacking some speed, which ends up with only the two defensive midfielders defending in the box, with the rest of midfielders not tracking back when they are defending a counter attack.

If they feel overwhelmed by the quality of the rival, expect them to make a line of 5 at the back, with the midfielders shaping into three defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder, as they did against Dinamo in their last match .

On that occasion, they were more akin to a 3-4-1-2 when on the ball and a 5-3-1-1 when off possession.

Their forward always plays off the rival center backs. If I have to pinpoint some of their problems, it is the distance between lines, which allows for through passes and getting uncontested shots, something they haven’t managed to solve since last season.

Into the game

Villarreal are favored to win the match up and I expect them to end the clash on the first game. A 3-0 would be just fine.

As the injury information is not disclosed, and through a look into Croatian media, Fossati and Nikola Kalinic are dealing with some injuries, and are in doubt for the match.

Considering the time Fossati has missed, I would be surprised if he starts the game. Putting Livaja on the bench during this game is something that I wouldn’t expect Dambrauskas to do if he wants to keep his job.

Given how volatile Croatian football is, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to take such risks.