La Liga 2019/20: Valencia vs Villarreal – tactical analysis

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics

Valencia hosted Villarreal at the Mestalla in La Liga‘s first Derbi de la Comunitat of the season. Los Ches have not been in stellar form recently, not winning any of their last two matches. They have got mixed results throughout this season, and it’s not a good thing for such a talented squad.

Meanwhile, Villarreal’s poor defence has more than neutralised the efforts of their creative attacking line. They lost three and drew one of their last four matches. However, Expected Points statistics show that they have massively underperformed in La Liga 2019/20.

In this tactical analysis, we will delve into both sides’ tactics, and how Valencia beat Villarreal.


Valencia (4-4-2): Jasper Cillessen; José Gayà, Eliaquim Mangala, Gabriel Paulista, Daniel Wass; Carlos Soler, Francis Coquelin, Dani Parejo, Ferrán Torres; Maxi Gómez, Rodrigo.

Villarreal (4-1-4-1): Sergio Asenjo; Xavier Quintilla, Pau Torres, Raúl Albiol, Mario Gaspar, Manuel Morlanes, Moi Gómez, Manu Trigueros, André Anguissa, Gerard Moreno, Karl Toko Ekambi.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia vs Villarreal line-ups

Valencia in possession

Villarreal defended in a 4-1-4-1. The two central midfielders followed the opponent’s double pivots. The wingers would try to stay narrow and block central passing lanes, while the full-backs would be tasked with closing down the opponent’s widest players. As the deepest midfielder, Morlanes could take care of Valencia’s needle players like Rodrigo.

Valencia used a 4-4-2 in possession. During the build-up, Parejo would often drop deep to become the third centre-back, and thus invited Trigueros – who was supposed to close him down – to go higher. Ferran, Rodrigo and Soler all dropped deep and centrally, keeping Villarreal’s midfield narrow and opened up space for the two full-backs. 

Villarreal tried to press high with their narrow front five – especially Trigueros and Anguissa were effective pressers – but the dropping movements of Rodrigo and Ferran, and the great pressing resistance of Parejo and Coquelin meant Valencia often pass their way out of the opponent’s heavy pressing.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Parejo and Rodrigo dropping deep, Ferran and Soler’s central movements

The central, between-the-line positioning of Rodrigo and Soler also helped Valencia counterpress better. They could quickly overload the ball side, as demonstrated in the below example: After losing the ball, there were 8 Valencia players on the ball side.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia’s counterpress

Valencia showed a lack of creativity in the first 30 minutes. Villarreal’s narrow midfield forced them to attack through the flank. They attacked more on the right than on the left. Ferran is a great dribbler and passer, and was helped by the wide movements of Rodrigo. Valencia tried to send crosses towards Gómez or Rodrigo, but was often unsuccessful. 

Villarreal in possession

Valencia defended in a zonal 4-4-2 – the whole shape would shift according to the ball. The central forwards would try to stay between Morlanes to mark him and reduce forward passing options. The wingers tried to keep the midfield compact, but would anticipate passes towards the opponent’s full-backs and step out to close them down. They often defended wider than the full-backs, as Villarreal’s wingers played quite centrally.

Initially, Valencia would press higher, pushing up to force back passes all the way towards the Villarreal goalkeeper, but gradually became more of a mid-press. 

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia’s mid-press; Ferran anticipating a pass towards Villarreal’s left back

In the below image, we see Valencia’s perfectly aligned two banks of four. Also, it’s important to notice that Ekambi could at times drop quite deep to give Villarreal an extra option in the build-up – he’s good with dribbling and combinations. In these situations, the likes of Moi and Gerard would occupy the space left behind.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia’s two banks of four; Ekambi dropping

Villarreal used a 4-1-2-3 in possession. Morlanes was the lone pivot who could drop deep to become the third centre-back to help Villarreal create a 3v2 advantage against Valencia’s first line of pressing. It was not surprising that Villarreal built up on the left more on the right. From the right, Gerard would move centrally and between the lines, while Moi tried to exploit pockets of space around the left half-space. Their movements helped the likes of Pau and Trigueros make line-breaking passes. With Gerard, Moi, Ekambi and Trigueros moving close to each other and the help from Pau and Quintilla, there were a lot of short combinations on the left.

The Trigueros-Quintilla-Moi triangle was key to Villarreal’s attack, with their flexible movements and one-twos facilitating crosses into the box. The most prolific crossers in this match were Quintilla and Moi (8 crosses each). In addition, three of Villarreal top four passing links were between two players in the triangle mentioned above.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Gerard and Moi between lines

Trigueros is a key playmaker in Villarreal’s short passing scheme. His constant movements to occupy space and passing skills helped him become a reliable passing option. 

Villarreal’s left side overload also helped them counterpress effectively. The two players nearest to the ball carrier would instantly rushed at him as soon as he was about to receive the ball. In the below example, Valencia’s passing sequence was Ferran -> Coquelin -> Paulista -> Parejo.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Villarreal’s counterpress

Anguissa received a lot of balls after Villarreal overloaded the left side and switched play. His strong dribbling and passing made him the key playmaker on the right.

Valencia’s vertically and horizontally compact shape made it very difficult for Villarreal to progress through the centre. They relied a lot on crosses (14 in the first half). One of which resulted in a chance for Gerard, which led to a penalty. Gerard couldn’t beat Cillessen from the spot though.

Valencia’s 30th-minute change 

Just before the half-hour mark, Albert Celades switched to a 4-2-3-1, with Ferran as the left winger, Rodrigo on the right and Soler between the two. Soler’s dribbling and passing from the left was not effective. In the new position, his smart movements between the lines helped Valencia progressed better centrally. He could also make late runs into the box.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia’s 4-2-3-1 with Soler between the lines.

Parejo would still drop deep to help his side build up, but then moved higher in the later stages, leaving Coquelin as the deepest midfielder. Parejo would even move into the box at times, or lurk just outside to quickly get to balls cleared from crosses. Moving closer to Rodrigo and Soler also helped Parejo facilitate short combinations.

They now defended in a 4-1-4-1, with Parejo and Soler closing down Trigueros and Morlanes. This helped them press higher and better disrupt the opponent’s build-up. 

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Valencia’s 4-1-4-1 out of possession

They would retreat into a 4-5-1 if the high press failed. If a Villarreal central midfielder got the ball, one Valencia central midfielder would step out to press him, knowing he was well covered. 

Second half changes

Early goals in the second half brought excitement to the game. In the 49th minute, Rodrigo opened the scoreline after a wonderful long through ball from Gómez. Five minutes later, Anguissa equalised after intercepting the ball and dribbling from the middle of the park. In the 63rd minute, Ekambi was replaced by the exciting young dribbler Samuel Chukwueze. This season, he has often come on in the second half to beat the tired defenders and create chances on the counter. He was impressive once again, completing 6/8 dribbles in merely half an hour. After coming on, he played as the right winger, pushing Gerard to the lone striker position.

Ferran scored in the 70th minute, forcing Villarreal to make offensive changes. Javier Ontiveros – the left winger – and Carlos Bacca were subbed in for Morlanes and Moi respectively. Villarreal now played with a 4-4-2, with Bacca alongside Gerard upfront, and Trigueros and Anguissa as the double pivot. They kept launching crosses in the final minutes, but to no avail. The match ended 2-1 for the host.

La Liga 2019/20 Valencia vs Villarreal - tactical analysis tactics
Villarreal’s 4-4-2 in the final 10 minutes


In the end, this analysis showed that this was a fairly even match with few big chances. Both sides showed good defensive qualities and short build-up play, but had difficulties in the final third. One key difference was that Valencia took their chances – they had fewer chances – while Gerard blew his side’s biggest chance from the spot. 

Gerard’s poor performance, combined with maestro Cazorla’s absence made it difficult for the Yellow Submarine to disrupt Valencia’s well-drilled defensive system. Yesterday, their defence was better than usual, but their poor finishing once again showed. That’s what has kept this vibrant side off the top of the table – and needs to be worked on as soon as possible. For Valencia, it was the same old story. It’s clear that they are a top team defensively, but they need to have better offensive ideas than relying on the sole talent of Ferran and Rodrigo. 

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