Villarreal vs Real Madrid – The Submarine can’t sink Los Blancos

An excellent game at el Madrigal with both sides contributing to an engrossing contest.

Line Ups

Marcelinho made just one change from the side that had swept away Osasuna in their last game with Dos Santos replacing Perbet in attack. Villarreal began with their usual 4-4-2 formation. Cani would tuck into central midfield from his left side starting position.
Starting Line Ups

Starting Line Ups

With a number of injuries to contend with, Ancelotti went with Carvajal and Nacho in the full back positions. Despite not being fully fit, both Isco and Bale started for Madrid with Illarramendi making his Madrid debut too.
After all the conjecture about where Bale would play, he began life at Real Madrid in the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 system. The attacking trident of Ronaldo, Isco and Bale may appear devastating on paper but at el Madrigal, things were anything but.

Positioning

The graphic below shows the average positions during the game. The most obvious feature from a Madrid perspective is just how narrow the side is with the centre of the pitch looking extremely congested. With Ronaldo, Isco and Benzema all favouring the left side and Gareth Bale moving inward from the right, the side lacked a degree of balance in attack:-

Average Player Positions

Average Player Positions

By contrast, Villarreal enjoyed greater balance and movement across the pitch aided by a degree of familiarity and understanding in their play. Both full backs pushed very high especially Mario to support Aquino and push Nacho further back. Early on, much of Villarreal’s play was coming down the Madrid left.

Villarreal Identity Clear

The key aspect of Villarreal’s play was the combined with fluid movement and sharp passing. In Pereira and Dos Santos, the Submarine had two forwards willing to work the channels between centre back and full backs to great effect. Overarching all of this was a clear understanding of what they wanted to achieve. Swift, purposeful moves forward aided by sharp first touch passing with options provided from the second line of attack.

Madrid received plenty of warnings yet failed to heed any of them. Pereira should have opened the scoring after 5 minutes when Pepe failed to cut out a Cani pass on his outside but his weak shot was deflected wide. The Villarreal midfield closed down Madrid quickly early on such as Trigueros robbing Isco after 7 minutes letting the home side break. It set the tone for the game. Villarreal broke quickly and directly but the forwards were adequately supported from the second line of attack. Cani got into the penalty area to open the scoring after 21 minutes with the move being instigated down the channel between Ramos and Nacho.

There were also further chances for Aquino, again driving down the inside right channel, and even left back Costa arrived in the penalty area unmarked. Madrid were physically off the pace and mentally too were lacking. A quick corner in the 13th minute was delivered to the unmarked Pereira at the back post but Lopez saved the resultant shot.

The runners from midfield repeatedly caused problems for Madrid as they went untracked whilst the pairing of Ramos and Pepe looked unsteady.  And at the heart of Villarreal’s play orchestrating things was the highly impressive Bruno.

Bruno Soriano

Although nominally a defensive midfielder, Bruno fulfils a much greater role than purely that of destroyer for Villarreal operating along the lines of a deep lying playmaker at times. Despite performing amidst a crowded central area, Bruno always found time and space to receive the ball and help his side retain possession with a near 100% pass completion rate. He began attacks, prompting team mates to run into space and just as importantly, he knew when to retreat and recycle possession, playing the ball back to Asenjo from the halfway line at one point:-

Bruno Passes Made

Bruno Passes Made

On a night when the press had gathered to see Gareth Bale make a goal scoring debut for Madrid, it’s a fair assessment to say that Bruno was the best performer on the pitch.

Bruno remained with the submarine when they were relegated and he may never receive the move to a bigger, more prestigious club despite reports of numerous suitors throughout his career. He may never add to his four Spanish international caps either but he showed on Saturday evening just what he is capable of and why both he and Villarreal will be an asset to La Liga this season.

Defensive Issues

If Villarreal are clear what they aim to achieve on the pitch, Ancelotti is still working on that element for Madrid. The Italian has repeatedly shoehorned various star players into a starting line up over his career and he will need to repeat the trick again at Madrid. The front three of Ronaldo, Isco and Bale will have many running out of superlatives to describe them but there’s a worry for Madridista’s that the balance is not right.

Ronaldo doesn’t track back but the side could compensate with the workrate of Di Maria on the right but if Bale replaces the Argentinean in the starting eleven and drifts further inward, there will be issues for Madrid during transitions as Villarreal showed on Saturday. Modric and Illarramendi were overrun at times as the Submarine swarmed forward at pace. There was also the problem on occasion of both central midfield players moving forward together with nobody staying deeper to offer defensive protection.

The second goal for Villarreal arrived because nobody bothered to close down Cani as he ran forward in a central area. Lopez saved his shot but Dos Santos converted the rebound. As poor as that was, earlier in the move, Bruno and Musacchio exchanged passes with Di Maria closing them down whilst the remainder of the Madrid team sat back. One player pressing alone is a total waste of time.

It was a difficult evening for Nacho and Carvajal at full back and whilst Nacho may lack the attacking thrust that Marcelo presents, the work of Carvajal on the right collecting a pass from Modric before cutting back for Bale to score shows the greater penetration that he offers over the more conservative Arbeloa.

The graphic below shows plenty of final third passes for Madrid but too few were into the penalty area with key passes leading to shots from outside the area, which is still a strength for Madrid but less dangerous:-

Final Third Passes

Final Third Passes

Villarreal failed with over a third of their final third passes but with a riskier strategy of threading balls into the channels to get behind Madrid, this was always a more likely outcome. The graphic also shows how a number of passes which led to shots came down the Madrid left. The plan was clear. Shift the ball quickly and try to exploit the gaps behind Madrid with pace whereas Madrid were disjointed in attack due to a lack of familiarity with each other and a lack of fitness for key players.

Disconnected

Madrid’s problems were most evidently displayed by the lacklustre performance of Benzema who seemed disinterested for much of the game and often appeared completely disconnected from the rest of the team in the striking position. It forced Benzema to drop deeper and deeper to receive the ball and become more involved in the game. The graphic below shows his positions when he received the ball:-

Benzema Passes Received

Benzema Passes Received

Madrid seldom got in behind Villarreal’s defence and with Benzema dropping deep, it was another example of the visitors always playing in front of their opponents defence. The equalising goal for Madrid was one of the few times they got behind Villarreal.

Benzema was involved in Madrid’s second when his shot was partly saved by Asenjo but the goal was really about the craft of Isco, juggling the ball out of danger before Ronaldo carried possession forward.

The front four of the team possess tremendous individual ability. The trick for Ancelotti will be gaining the best from them collectively.

Missed Opportunity?

Ancelotti will be satisfied and relieved with a point. Playing Bale and Isco whilst not fully fit and handing a debut to Illarramendi nearly backfired but to gain a point and aid team development and player fitness, it will now seem worthwhile.

An excellent point for Marcelinho and Villarreal but the thought will linger that it should have been three and that this may actually have been an opportunity lost. The Submarine created and squandered numerous chances as they attacked with precision throughout.

Four games in and Villarreal are undefeated with ten points. The challenge is to maintain this level of form and begin the process of re-establishing the Submarine back amidst the upper echelons of La Liga.

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The Submarine Rising

It’s not often you start a game in one month, complete it the following month and make history in the process but Villarreal did exactly that on Saturday evening at El Sadar. The game kicked off at 11pm on Saturday 31st August and as the full time whilst sounded with 1am approaching on Sunday 1st September, the Yellow Submarine were about to depart with three points following a very comfortable win marked by some tremendous attacking play. And they would sit top of La Liga alone for the first time in their history.

This was a poor performance from Osasuna epitomised by a lot of endeavour but not  great deal of structure or organisation. The home side parted company with manager Mendilibar this morning.

Line Ups

The former Villarreal player Oriol came into the Osasuna side with Damia only fit enough for the bench. Further forward, Riera started as the central striker.

Marcelinho made one change for Villarreal with Giovanni dos Santos dropping to the bench to be replaced by Perbet. As was customary prior to their relegation, Villarreal lined up in a 4-4-2 variation with Perbet dropping a little deeper off the front two. Aquino operated as a true winger whereas Cani frequently moved into the centre from the left.

Contrasting Styles

At first glance, this would seem like an obvious contract in styles between both sides. The more direct, physically robust style of Osasuna against the short, sharp passing of Villarreal and yet Osasuna enjoyed 59% possession making a substantially larger number of passes in the process but as the graphic below shows, the passes were always around the middle third of the pitch and never penetrative. Osasuna would push so far up the pitch then run out of ideas against an extremely well organised Villarreal side:-

Osasuna vs Villarreal Passes

Osasuna vs Villarreal Passes

Villarreal defended using two bans of four who sat fairly deep and were compact with no real space between the lines. Osasuna found this difficult to break down and when moves were disrupted, both Perbet and Pereira were left up the pitch in order to instigate counter attacking moves primarily down the channels where both of Osasuna’s full backs had been caught high up the pitch. The attacks were often simple yet brilliantly executed.

 

Attacking Options

Osasuna didn’t offer enough variety in attack. They would pass around the middle third of the pitch and either concede possession or knock a long hopeful ball forward towards Riera in attack but there was never sufficient support around the frontman or breaking forward from midfield to feed off scraps. There were very few successful passes into the opposition penalty area either. Osasuna were simply not hurting Villarreal.

Final Third Passes

Final Third Passes

Villarreal continually attacked their opponents down the flanks, aided by some less than secure defending with the diagram above showing the repeated attacks down their right side through Aquino.

Osasuna Defence

The diagram below shows the average positions from both teams during the game with Osasuna shown in blue and Villarreal in red. The stand out point is that Osasuna appear to have nobody operating at right back with Oier pushing into midfield. Osasuna are squashed where as Villarreal have much better balance:-

Average Positions

Average Positions

Osasuna conceded just 14 goals at home in 19 league games last season. Their survival was built upon this foundation with their attack being notoriously weak. Yet after two home games this season, they have conceded five goals.

Villarreal could cope very easily with Osasuna’s disjointed press and exploit the huge gaps between midfield and defence.

Cani often strayed into a central position from wide leftt and this probably created the problem for  Oier who followed his man but with no cover at full back, Pereira could pull wide and run down this flank, drawing Loties over into an area that the defender looked distinctly uneasy with. La Liga missed Cani last season and the creative midfielder used his skill and experience to good effect.

 

Villarreal Goals

The three goals were all the result of quick counter attacks, involved sharp passing and were completed with close range finishes. The opener came was Pereira broke down the left and beat Loties far too easily with Perbet converting. The second goal followed a beautifully lofted ball over the defence by Bruno with Aquino cutting in from the right to score after Pereira had again escaped from Loties:-

Villarreal Goals

Villarreal Goals

The third and final goal arrived midway through the second half. Aquino went on a surging run forward following Osasuna losing possession with dos Santos cutting back for Uche to side foot home.

All counter attacks, all completed quickly and all finished with aplomb in complete contrast to the laboured approach of Osasuna.

Defensively Sound

And just as Villarreal were swift with their counter attacks, their young defence was solid too, preventing an Osasuna side devoid of craft and guile from breaking them down or out muscling them with a more physical approach.

The Submarine would fall back into two compact blocks of four during the defensive phase which Osasuna found increasingly hard to break through. Slow passing and lack of passing options contributing towards this. The success of the Villarreal system can be viewed by the number and location of tackles that the away side attempted:-

Osasuna vs Villarreal Tackles

Osasuna vs Villarreal Tackles

Osasuna as they normally do, pressed their opponents high and won a number of tackles in the opposition half of the field but they were also forced to make a high number of interventions in their own penalty area as they were repeatedly exposed on transitions. Yet Villarreal only attempted one tackle on an Osasuna player in their penalty area. The compact block did it’s job very well with Osasuna unable to progress centrally, they moved wide where they were tackled and lose possession. This was an ideal position to launch counter attacks with balls down the channels pulling the Osasuna central defensive pairing of Loties and Arribas wide and into uncomfortable territory.

Passing in the Night?

The Yellow Submarine have returned to La Liga and immediately impressed with three wins from three placing them temporarily as La Liga leaders for the first time in their history. They may not have the star names of some recent Villarreal sides but there remains a style and panache about them when they burst forward in attack. With no debt now, Villarreal can be quietly confident of establishing themselves in La Liga against this season and moving forward from there.

For Osasuna, things have started very badly both on and off the pitch. It’s difficult to see any quality reinforcements arriving and they really needs injuries to clear up quickly to get their best eleven players on the pitch but even then, the quality in the ranks of Osasuna has dropped in recent times. Avoiding relegation looks as if it will be a considerable achievement even this early in the season. Mendilibar will take the flak for the poor start but a closer examination would reveal a lack of support for the manager with nobody showing any vision in scouting new players or promoting from the cantera. The club has problems on and off the pitch.