In a marquee, all-Spanish clash in the Europa League, Marcelino’s Valencia beat Villarreal 3-1 at the Estadio de la Cerámica. A brace from Gonçalo Guedes and a solitary Daniel Wass goal handed Los Che an impressive win away from home and most importantly, three away goals. Villarreal dominated possession for most of the game but struggled to create chances and were picked apart on the counter by Marcelino’s side.

Lineups 

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The home side lined up in a 4-2-3-1 on the back of a heartbreaking loss to Betis. with Gerard Moreno leading the line. The 4-2-3-1 used by Javier Calleja was narrow and depended upon the width provided by the full-backs Mario and Xavier Quintillà. In midfield, Pablo Fornals and Samuel Chukwuezelined up on the left and right flanks respectively, on either side of Vicente Iborra who played as a number ten. Santi Cazorla and Santiago Cáseres formed the double pivot in midfield. Cazorla was allowed the freedom to roam while Cáseres was tasked with a much more defensive role. Carlos Bacca was left on the bench for this game.

Valencia lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo formed the attacking duo while Guedes and Ferran Torres played on the flanks, looking to give their side some width in attack. In central midfield, the versatile and hardworking Daniel Wass played alongside the reliable Dani Parejo. José Gayà and Facundo Roncaglia were the full-backs on either side of Gabriel and Ezequiel Garay in central defence. Neto played in goal.

Valencia defend narrowly 

Right from kickoff, Valencia were happy to give Villarreal possession of the ball. Los Che experienced only 41 per cent of the possession for the entirety of the game but defended very well. When out of possession, Valencia defended in a compact 4-4-2. While pressing minimally, Marcelino’s side were well-coordinated and made minimal errors.

As Villarreal played a high defensive line and forced Valencia into their own half, the attacking duo of Gameiro and Rodrigo made efforts to block the passing channels from the Villarreal centre-backs to midfield.

Through this, they were able to force a lot of unnecessary ball-circulation from the Villarreal defence. Furthermore, it made Cazorla drop a lot deeper than he had been expecting to, reducing his influence in the final third. When the ball was played wide to the full-backs, Valencia maintained their compact shape and didn’t attempt to press or engage too much.

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Valencia defend in a compact 4-4-2. Chukwueze drifts inside for Villarreal.

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The wide players in Torres and Guedes were particularly impressive with regards to the defensive work they put in. Between themselves, Guedes and Torres made seven tackles, one clearance and three blocks. Wass’s influence cannot be ignored either.

The Dane made four tackles, one block, one interception and netted a brilliantly taken goal. By opting for a blend of flair and reliability in their starting eleven, Valencia were able to play an exquisite counter-attacking game without losing their defensive structure.

Lack of width costs Villarreal 

As mentioned before, Villarreal dominated possession but were unable to do much with it for the most part. Despite keeping the ball to themselves, Villarreal had just six shots on target. Even Valencia were able to register four shots on target, three of which they scored from. This lack of creativity and chance-creation was a result of Villarreal lacking width in attack. With Valencia defending narrow, Calleja’s men would have done better to utilise the width available to them in order to cross the ball better and look for cut-backs as well.

The lack of width stemmed from the tendency of the wide players to drift inside too much. Both Fornals and Chukwueze started on the wings but found themselves in central areas more often than not. This meant that the full-backs Mario and Quintillà struggled to impose themselves on the game as they had both the opposition wingers and full-backs to beat in order to get themselves into good crossing positions.

 

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As the above graphic indicates, Villarreal had most of their attacks from the left flank
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The average positions of the Villarreal players (on the left) is chaotic and shows no kind of pattern or strategy. Both Fornals and Quintillà are too close to each other. Valencia’s, on the other hand, shows the freedom given to the wider players on the counter but how the strikers and central midfielders maintained their position.
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Fornals drifts inside leaving his full-back with no passing option and forcing him to play the ball back to the defence.

Had Chukwueze and Fornals stayed wider, Villarreal could have been able to utilise the overlap better and create more chances from the wings. On the left-hand side, the Yellow Submarine missed a golden opportunity to target Roncaglia, who is naturally a centre-back and isn’t the quickest player around. Villarreal seemingly played into Valencia’s hands by forcing themselves to play narrow instead of opting for a wider approach.

Individual errors lead to goals 

Two of the goals came from penalties while the other two were a result of poor defending from the Villarreal players. The home side struggled to keep Guedes quiet and he was a real handful over the 90 minutes, scoring a brace. Through intelligent movement combined with a lack of defensive awareness on Villarreal’s part, Guedes was able to win a penalty for the first goal. This defensive awareness proved to be the difference between the two sides.

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Guedes makes the pass but his run isn’t tracked
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With Mario occupied, Chukwueze ought to have marked Guedes tighter which he failed to do and Cáseres is too late

Similarly, for Valencia’s second goal, Villarreal over-extend themselves, leaving yards of space and time for Gayà to calmly square the ball and Wass to finish.

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The Villarreal defender gets caught too tight and misses the challenge. Gayà has acres of space

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Overall, while Valencia’s goals were impressive counter-attacks, Villarreal will equally have themselves to blame for individual defensive errors. It was a classic case of dominating possession at home but failing to put away chances and as a result being picked off on the counter.

Conclusion 

The game represents an impressive away win for Valencia. Los Che now look the favourites to go through to the semi-finals and have three valuable away goals to take into the second leg. Villarreal’s Europa League campaign has been a sole bright spot in what has otherwise been a wretched campaign for the Yellow Submarine. Currently sitting 18th in the league, Javier Calleja’s side are embroiled in a battle against relegation. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were to focus fully on survival and forget about the second leg.



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Hrishi Anand

Football writer and analyst based in India. Arsenal fan, Borussia Dortmund. Law student.