Villarreal may be a club beset by crippling financial troubles, but El Submarino Amarillo proved yesterday evening that they remain a competitive force on the field as they recorded a 4-0 win over Espanyol at El Madrigal.
One of La Liga’s most consistent over-achievers, Villarreal finished seventh last season having played their best football when using a 4-3-3 shape with Giuseppe Rossi, Nilmar and Joseba Llorente forming a potent attacking triumvirate.
However, with Llorente departing for Real Sociedad this summer, coach Juan Carlos Garrido was forced to re-think his team’s tactical approach and, on the evidence of yesterday’s performance, is approaching something resembling a balanced side.
Having suffered an opening day defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad using a 4-2-3-1 shape, Garrido opted for a 4-4-2 against Espanyol as Nilmar was brought into the starting as a strike partner for Rossi – Cani being the player to miss out on selection.
Of the central midfield players Marcos Senna was predictably the deeper of the two, playing something approaching a holding role as Bruno adopted box-to-box duties.
Although Garrido’s team had a healthy balance about it, Villarreal started slowly and were fortunate not to concede early on as Pablo Osvaldo, Espanyol’s intelligent lone striker in their 4-2-3-1, tested Diego Lopez on several occasions. Once Nilmar had give the home side the lead against the run of play, however, Villarreal were able to assert themselves on the game and began to set its tempo.
As well as pressing from the front to good effect Garrido’s side played with an intense physicality one might not expect from what is a relatively small team, preventing Espanyol from establishing much in the way of a rhythm after taking the lead.
An injury to Osvaldo compounded the visitors’ problems and, by the time the mid-way break came around, looked thoroughly frustrated at the apparent futility of their efforts.
One of the key features behind the success of Villarreal’s play was the willingness of Rossi and Nilmar to peel out wide and link up with Santi Cazorla and Borja Valero on the flanks. This diversity of movement drew the Espanyol back four out of position and created space which was exploited to good effect , something which was particularly central to Rossi’s opening goal.
As soon as Villarreal had extended their lead through Valero, Espanyol were forced to throw more bodies forward in attack, an approach which saw their two defensive midfielders – Aldo Duscher and Javi Marquez – push higher up the field and leave acres of space between themselves and the defence.
As the game opened up the home side were able to finish the game as a contest with fifteen minutes still to play. Revelling in the space between Espanyol’s defence and midfield as well as getting in behind an increasingly offensive pair of fullbacks, substitutes Cani and Jefferson Montero combined excellently down the left side, eventually crossing for an unmarked Nilmar to tap home.
4-0 was not a wholly fair reflection on the level of Espanyol’s performance which, at times, was very impressive. However, the visitors allowed themselves to get frustrated by Villarreal’s physicality in defence while leaving space to be unlocked by El Submarino Amarillo‘s talented attacking unit.
The reputation of 4-4-2 may – justifiably in some cases – taken a battering of late, but Garrido last night showed how dynamic a system it can be with a few minor tweaks to a team’s game-plan.
Villarreal looked both compact and balanced yesterday and, with a potent blend of steel and skill, should be aiming for another European qualification this season.