Valencia 5-0 Villarreal: spare man at the back, and direct football going forward

April 10, 2011
The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

Third-placed Valencia demolished fourth-placed Villarreal at the Mestalla.

Unai Emery brought Ever Banega back into the side in the centre of midfield, and also recalled Portuguese defenders Miguel and Ricardo Costa at the back.

Juan Carlos Garrido was forced to change things at the back, after the news that centre-back Gonzalo Rodriguez is out for the rest of the season with a broken leg. He gave a rare start to Kiko, resisting the temptation to move Carlos Marchena from his ‘new’ central midfield position.

Valencia started the game in control, and aside from a brief spell towards the end of the first half, that was how the game stayed. Villarreal’s sheer inexperience at the back cost them, whilst Emery got the better of Garrido tactically.

Spare man

Pre-match television graphics showed Valencia lining up in their usual 4-2-3-1 system, but this was not to be the case. Instead, as in the reverse fixture earlier this season, Emery decided to use a three-man defence, with central midfielder Mehmet Topal deployed as an additional centre-back.

The idea here was basically to give Valencia a spare man at the back. The problem with facing Giuseppe Rossi and and Nilmar is that they make unusual runs, from inside to outside – if they’re tracked too far, it leaves the centre of the pitch completely open. Therefore, a spare man there is a good idea, and has the extra benefit of being able to cover when the Villarreal strikers use their pace to get onto balls over the top.


The start of the game was played at a high tempo, with the pace largely set by the home side. Valencia pressed Villarreal excellently, and whilst Garrido’s men continued with their short, patient passing, they weren’t quite on their game, and struggled to get Santi Cazorla, the link player, involved.

Villarreal also pressed high up, and the result of both sides taking a proactive approach to defend was a congested midfield battle, with the play squeezed into the middle third of the pitch. Both sides were caught offside in the opening moments.

High line exploited

Like in Arsenal’s trip to Blackpool earlier in the day, the key here was an offside line being continually exploited by a striker. Here it was Roberto Soldado, fresh from four goals in his last outing against Getafe. He played towards the right of the pitch, up against the newcomer Kiko, and managed to successfully break past the Villarreal backline in the right-hand channel on three separate occasions in the first half. Twice he was denied by Diego Lopez, but the other time he took the shot very early, and finished into the far corner.

Valencia's transitions from defence to attack were simple but effective. With Villarreal's wide players coming inside, Valencia's wing-backs could charge forward to create 3 v 2 situations down the flanks - Miguel did this for Soldado's first goal

Villarreal were putting a decent amount of pressure on the ball in midfield, but they struggled to cope with Valencia defenders coming out with the ball from the back. In particular, since Villarreal’s wide players end up in the centre of the pitch, it was fairly easy for Valencia’s wing-backs to move forward in possession, and they had time to pick a pass after creating 3 v 2 situations – see the diagram on the right. Miguel provided the pass for Soldado’s opener.

Valencia continued to exploit Villarreal’s weaknesses intelligently. Emery’s side is often praised for their short, patient passing approach – but here they attacked extremely quickly, often taking advantage of Cazorla out of position down Villarreal’s left – in fact, the first three goals all came down that side.

Valencia remain in control

Emery suffered the loss of Tino Costa towards the end of the first half, and brought on Angel Dealbert instead – he played at centre-back, and Topal moved back into midfield, strengthening Valencia defensively in that part of the pitch.

Villarreal were surprisingly clueless with the ball. The woes started from the back, where their makeshift back four simply isn’t as comfortable in possession as Garrido would like, but continued deep in midfielder (where Bruno and Marchena were pressed), and simply getting the ball forward was a problem. Rossi was barely noticeable, and Nilmar scooped Villarreal’s only decent chance over the crossbar just before half time.

Latter stages

At 2-0, Garrido tried to change things by removing Juan Capdevila and throwing on Marco Ruben, a more physical central striker which in theory allowed them to play longer passes (also, this substitution had got Villarreal back i nthe game in the reverse fixture) but the only effect of this was to further weaken Villarreal down their left – and they conceded the third goal almost immediately as Bruno failed to cover that side of the pitch.

From then on, Villarreal’s heads dropped and Valencia took full advantage – Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez were in superb form and ruthlessly demolished Villarreal’s backline. More impressively, the home side kept up their intensity, their tempo and their pressure on the ball, and weren’t troubled at the back despite Villarreal’s extra striker.


Two factors here, at each end of the pitch. First, Emery swapped his back four for a back three (or a back five, if you like) which allowed a spare man and therefore guarded against the movement and pace of Villarreal’s forwards. Going forward, Valencia had an obvious strategy to play direct football, moving the ball quickly down the flanks and getting Soldado in behind Kiko – it worked excellently, and though Villarreal themselves had a spare man, the back four simply wasn’t quick enough to justify playing so high up the pitch.

Almost every individual played well for Valencia – the movement and interplay of the front three was fantastic, whilst Banega pulled the strings in midfield, and overshadowed Villarreal’s technical players in the centre.

Valencia now have a commanding hold of third place in La Liga – six points, plus a head-t0-head advantage – which surely means the end of the fight for that position. Villarreal, meanwhile, have an eight-point advantage over fifth-placed Sevilla, and may now turn their attention to the Europa League.

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