Villarreal 1-0 Sevilla: Nilmar goal wins the game
Villarreal produced a decent performance to remain ‘best of the rest’ in La Liga.
Juan Carlos Garrido gave a rare start to Jose Manuel Catala at left-back ahead of Joan Capdevila. Marcos Senna started alongside Bruno Soriano in the centre of midfield, while Santi Cazorla started on the right, Cani on the left.
Sevilla, without Luis Fabiano and Jesus Navas, went for a 4-1-4-1 system with Frederic Kanoute upfront alone, with Jose Carlos and Diego Perotti playing as inverted wingers either side.
Gregorio Manzano’s gameplan was clear – he saw Villarreal’s two holding players as very important to the home side’s game, and therefore used two central midfielders, Romaric and Luca Cigarini, trying to close them down and press at every opportunity.
In fairness, this worked quite well at the start of the game. As much as any other side in European football at the moment, Villarreal’s two holding players are literally a ‘double pivot’. With the strikers moving wide, the interiores cutting in and the full-backs bombing on up the touchline, Senna and Bruno Soriano maintain their position in the centre of the pitch and allow the rest of the side to drift across the pitch and take up new roles. The rest of the side functions around them.
Senna and Bruno weren’t allowed time on the ball, however, and Villarreal didn’t play particularly well in the opening stages.
The problem, however, was that by fielding two midfielders in ‘defensive’ roles high up the pitch, Sevilla didn’t have much creativity in the centre of midfield. The man with more time than anyone else on the ball was Didier Zokora, but his passing was not particularly ambitious and he rarely had good movement ahead of him. The two wingers were designed to be the main threats, but with Villarreal’s full-backs pushing Perotti and Carlos back into deep zones, they were not in a position to create.
Another problem for Sevilla was that they were trying to press Villarreal at goal kicks, but there is no natural press for a 4-1-4-1 against a 4-4-2. Diego Lopez was always able to play the ball to one of his centre-backs, who would then knock it out to a full-back once one of Sevilla’s wingers had come inside to close down a centre-back, and the ball was played forward. The obvious solution would be for Sevilla to push one of their central midfielders forward, but their job was to occupy Villarreal’s holders and so remained in position.
With this (half-hearted attempt to) press came a high defensive line, and though the defence were not particularly high up the pitch for the goal, a ball in behind looked the most likely way for Villarreal to take the lead. Nilmar finished typically coolly.
On 55 minutes Manzano made two changes, removing Romaric and Carlos, and bringing on Alvaro Negredo and Diego Capel, pushing Sevilla higher up the pitch and giving them more attacking potential, with two wingers on the ‘correct’ sides and two strikers. Crucially, this meant that they were able to press much more naturally and much more effectively.
And, on the balance of play, they will have felt they deserved to get back into the game. They had two goals disallowed because of very marginal offside calls – once when Villarreal’s entire team tried to push up from a free-kick – and for the final third of the game, they were by far the better side.
Villarreal were surprisingly unconvincing when they looked to counter, and Juan Carlos Garrido felt the need to reinforce his side defensively by bringing on Capdevila for Cani.
Villarreal held out, but Sevilla’s change in shape made them the better side.
Manzano’s plan of stopping Villarreal’s central midfielders from playing worked well, but using this shape in combination with pressing high up the pitch did not.
Still, Villarreal were not at their best throughout and were slightly fortunate to hang onto a 1-0 win. Their movement was not as good as usual in the first half, and they struggled to move up the pitch in the second.Villarreal 1-0 Sevilla: Nilmar goal wins the game