Porto 5-1 Villarreal: Falcao nets four as Porto take giant leap towards Dublin
Villarreal were 1-0 up at half time, but a superb second half performance from Porto puts them fully in charge of the tie.
Andre Villas Boas used his usual 4-3-3 system. Cristian Sapanaru was at right-back, and Cristian Rodriguez was wide left.
Juan Carlos Garrido named a side which seemed to be his usual 4-2-2-2 before kick off. Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi were supported by Cani and Santi Cazorla, two wide players who come inside, and Borja Valero and Bruno Soriano, two classic deep-lying Spanish ball-playing midfielders. Jose Catala was surprisingly used at left-back over Joan Capdevila.
However, Villarreal’s formation was actually slightly different to usual, with Nilmar playing a right-sided role, filling in as the right-sided midfielder in a 4-4-1-1 without the ball. As always, Villarreal were fluid, but Cazorla usually played ‘in the hole’.
The major talking point in the first half of the game was Porto’s very high defensive line, which played perfectly into the hands of Villarreal. Rossi’s pace caused Porto no end of problems, whilst Nilmar also looked dangerous on the right hand side. Villas Boas seemed to have taken a suicidal approach.
His reasoning for the high line was presumably because he wanted his side to press in midfield. Villarreal are at their best when they’re allowed time to pass the ball – particularly the two deep-lying central midfielders – and Porto wanted to put a stop to that. That meant pressing, and, in turn, a high line.
It wasn’t really working though, and it was partly related to Porto’s other tactic. Because Villarreal generally play 4-2-2-2, their wide players come narrow into the centre of the pitch, and Garrido’s side can often be caught out with runs forward from the opposition full-backs. Therefore, Villas Boas pushed his full-backs high up the pitch – often higher than the midfield three – in order to exploit this weakness.
This meant that Fernando had to play very deep in midfield – even deeper than usual – and cover the full-back areas. On occasions he dropped into form a back three, as Porto shifted to 3-4-3. Indeed, he picked up an early yellow card when he fouled Nilmar in the left-back zone, and so had to be careful with his tackling. A combination of Fernando’s deep positioning, the fact he was on a yellow card, and Villarreal’s surprising formation in midfield meant that the away side could often pass around Porto in midfield and get time on the ball to play through passes. This, of course, is something you have to prevent if playing a high line.
The major individual battle was occurring down Villarreal’s right, Porto’s left. Nilmar was playing to that side but was slack with his defensive duties, whilst Alvaro Pereira was very high up the pitch. One of those two looked likely to get the breakthrough – Pereira’s delivery was poor, and whilst Nilmar wasted an early 1 v 1 after springing the offside trap, his cross for Cani was excellent, and Villarreal were 1-0 up on the stroke of half time.
What on earth happened to turn the game around so drastically in the second half? Non-tactical factors must be considered, particularly the tiredness that has been so obvious in Villarreal’s game recently, particularly the 5-0 reverse against Valencia.
First, it was slightly surprising that Garrido didn’t change things at half time. Villarreal had looked vulnerable despite leading – particularly down the right. More energy in midfield would have been useful.
Villas Boas didn’t use a substitute but he did change things. Fernando stopped playing so deep and never dropped into the defence after the break, whilst Joao Moutinho played alongside him, forming more of a midfield duo. Porto looked more secure in front of their defence – and aside from an early Cazorla chance – they weren’t opened up as easily because there was more pressure on the ball.
Villarreal twice conceded because of their own high defensive line. We’ve noted before that Villarreal are very keen on defending along the edge of the 18-yard line, even when the positioning of the ball makes it seem a slightly strange position to take up. On occasions it works well, but for Falcao’s header (the fourth goal) and quite probably the first (the concession of a penalty) it was their downfall.
They had two further problems – both down the opposite side to their problems in the first half. They had the same issues Benfica encountered when conceding five at the Dragao earlier in the season – first, the pace and power of Hulk was unstoppable at times. He set up Falcao for the third goal after beating Catala, and was also fouled for the free-kick that resulted in the fourth.
Hulk’s movement also caused problems. With more of a Moutinho-Fernando duo, Fredy Gurain could push forward to make Porto more of a 4-2-1-3, albeit with Guarin to the right. From there, Hulk could move to the flank and drag Catala out, then Guarin could power through and get in on goal – see the third goal. It was Fernando Belluschi playing that role against Benfica, but it was the same process. Villarreal even forgot how to defend corners, and Falcao scored his fourth, and Porto’s fifth, with a header back across goal.
The obvious cliche – a game of two halves. Villarreal exploited Porto’s high line in the first half, but couldn’t deal with Porto’s more effective midfield pressure after half time. More specific battles – particularly involving Hulk – opened Villarreal up far too easily, whilst the away side’s obsession with the 18-yard line was also questionable.