Villarreal 2-0 Atletico: Villarreal impress with technical quality and ruthless finishing
A 2-0 win that was both aesthetically impressive and quietly professional, as Villarreal move back up to second place.
The home side fielded a narrow 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2 with two quick forwards, and wide players looking to move into the centre of the pitch. Cani made a rare start on the left, whilst Gonzalo Rodriguez was played at centre-back alongside Carlos Marchena.
Atletico’s system was not dissimilar – the same formation they used on their way to winning the Europa League last year. The headline news was that Diego Forlan was on the bench, with in-form Brazilian Diego Costa preferred. Raul Garcia was in ahead of Tiago, and Filipe started at left-back.
The game was very open at the beginning of the match – it’s not often we see two sides lining up with just two central midfielders each, and this made for an attractive first half.
The two sides were essentially playing the same system, with minor differences in wide areas. Villarreal’s wide men were stationed in central areas on a relatively permanent basis – almost as soon as their side won the ball, they would look to move inside and open up space for the full-backs to get forward.
Atletico’s system was not dissimilar, but the wide players tended to keep width until they actually received the ball, when Jose Antonio Reyes and Simao Sabrosa would then cut in. However, the outcome was the same – nominal wide players ending up in the centre, and full-backs motoring on past.
Here, Villarreal got their full-backs forward much better than Atletico, with Joan Capdevila having an excellent game, scampering up and down the touchline – at one point being caught offside after mistiming his run over the top. Reyes’ tendency to come into the centre and then jog back when his side lost possession meant Capdevila often got plenty of time on the ball, and was a constant threat from left-back.
Villarreal were overall more patient in their approach – happy to knock the ball around in defence if there was not an obvious forward pass, trying to drag Atletico out of shape. They were intent on playing the ball out from goal-kicks, with the centre-backs pushing wide and the full-backs moving up the pitch, forming something like a 2-4-2-2 when the ball was with Diego Lopez. Atletico pressed this system easily and Villarreal had a couple of nervy moments at the back – they needed either Marcos Senna or Bruno Soriano to drop into the defence temporarily and provide an easier passing option, a la Busquets.
The home side’s movement upfront was excellent, in particular the understanding between the wide players and (a) the full-backs and (b) the strikers. The interiores (see Sid Lowe’s piece on Villarreal this week) had a natural relationship with the forwards as already discussed – wide players in, full-backs forward – but more impressive was the understanding they had with Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar, who would both drift to the flanks and take advantage of the fact that the Atletico full-backs had been dragged out of position. So, Villarreal were forcing the Atletico full-backs inside, the centre-backs out wide, and the wingers back into their own third, and creating all kinds of passing angles to play through them.
The game was won by more invention, imagination and quality in the final third. Both goals were beautifully-worked. The first came when Nilmar dropped deep and sent a through ball between centre-back and full-back for Cani to steam onto, and squeeze past David de Gea. The pass was both perfect and very simple, but the key was the positioning and movement of the front four, leaving Atletico’s backline looking square and static.
Atletico had their chances, most notably when Sergio Aguero had two penalty shouts turned down, but Rossi’s goal just after half-time killed the game – he twisted and turned past two defenders before cutting a shot back inside the near post – a wonderful individual goal, but one that summed up the creativity and invention of the whole side.
Qique Sanchez Flores made the obvious changes, introducing both Forlan and Tiago, but he kept the same shape, and therefore Villarreal found it very easy to defend against – everyone had their own man, the formations cancelled each other out, and Villarreal kept the ball for as long as possible, slowing the tempo and minimising the chance of more goals.
A marvellous performance from Juan Carlos Garrido’s side. In terms of basic tactics the game was fairly uneventful (in the sense that the two sides played similar shapes and didn’t seek to alter their style of play for the other) but it was the fluidity and movement from Villarreal’s attacking players that won the game – in contrast, Atletico seemed static and lacking in creativity.
Villarreal showed how to play a fluid game with two strikers – neither were stationed permanently in central positions, both looked to move out wide and take advantage of the space there, created by the wide players coming into the middle of the pitch.Villarreal 2-0 Atletico: Villarreal impress with technical quality and ruthless finishing