Heading into the first international break of the season, Villarreal find themselves sixth in La Liga, with three wins and just one loss in the opening six matches, while they are also top of their group with a 100% record in the Europa Conference League..
The previous two league games, a 1-1 draw at home to Sevilla after a 1-0 loss away to Real Betis, both showcased the areas of strength and weakness in Unai Emery’s side.
With just two goals conceded in La Liga, the defence has been astonishingly strong, with Raul Albiol and Pau Torres both impressing at the back yet again.
At the other end, despite scoring 10 goals in La Liga with Arnaut Danjuma and Gerard Moreno both missing games through injury, the current finishing ability of the team leaves a lot to be desired.
The Sevilla draw in particular, arguably should have been a victory with more composure in the box.
Stat Leaders (All Competitions)
Minutes - Dani Parejo - 578
Goals - Alex Baena - 6
Assists - Yeremy Pino, Samuel Chukwueze - 2
Passes completed - Raul Albiol - 324
Tackles (Won) - Giovani Lo Celso - 15 (11)
The obvious standout star has been youngster Alex Baena, who is making a stunning breakthrough into the first team.
The attacking midfielder replaced Moi Gomez in the main squad, and has already proven to be an upgrade on his predecessor, with six goals in all competitions and three coming in La Liga.
His equaliser against Sevilla was somewhat fortunate, given that it bounced in via goalkeeper Dmitrovic, but his other strikes have been anything but, with a goal of the season contender against Real Valladolid.
What a hit that is!— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) August 13, 2022
Álex Baena's strike glances off the crossbar on the way in to make it 3-0 to Villarreal pic.twitter.com/MlARdBDikv
Another youngster who has been in the spotlight is Nicolas Jackson, who had a rapid breakthrough in pre-season, and while he has impressed upfront, there is room for improvement.
With just one goal this season, and a number of missed chances, the 22-year-old has been pointed to as a player who needs to be more clinical, but his overall centre-forward play has been impressive and he looked assured against Sevilla.
“He is a player who is in the process of growing,” Emery stated about Jackson after the Sevilla match.
“There are times when some players have to go elsewhere to grow, but we are betting on him because his contribution is very high.”
Both first choice centre-backs have been solid at the back, and Alfonso Pedraza has stepped up with consistent performances after the summer departure of Pervis Estupinan.
The Spanish left-back’s pace has proven to be a useful tool in attack, and the 26-year-old has improved his defensive awareness as well.
Room to improve
It has been a good start to the season, and maintaining a good start despite Danjuma and Gerard’s absences can only be a positive.
With both set to return to full fitness, they can provide the clinical edge that has been lacking and take this team to the next level in the hunt for a top-four spot.
Even when the results haven’t been favourable, the performances against Real Betis and Sevilla were both encouraging, with plenty of chances created.
If the same level of fluidity and chance creation is kept up after the international break, then the team can become one of the most threatening attacking forces in La Liga.