Garrido uses Bruno Soriano at the back to help guide Villarreal through

August 24, 2011

Villarreal's starting shape. Cani and Camunas switched flanks throughout.

Villarreal qualified for the Champions League last night with a 3-0 victory over Odense, sending them through 3-1 on aggregate.

Pre-match teamsheets suggested that Villarreal would be lining up in a 3-4-3 shape, with Juan Oriol, Mateo Musacchio and new signing Cristian Zapata in a three-man defence. That seemed unlikely, since Oriol is an attacking left-back, but it was difficult to see quite how Juan Carlo Garrido was going to play.

It turned out to be not dissimilar to their usual 4-2-2-2, albeit with some interesting variations. Bruno Soriano, usually regarded as a central midfielder, filled in at centre-back, despite the presence of two regular centre-backs on the bench in Gonzalo Rodriguez and Carlos Marchena. With a growing feeling that central midfielders are able to play at centre-back without any problems (see Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano’s roles for Barcelona last season), this was further evidence that managers may be starting the shift.

Certainly, Villarreal play a similar brand of football to Barcelona, and in this game dominated possession for the entire 90 minutes, so Soriano’s ‘heat map’ of his positioning probably wouldn’t have been too different to had he played in central midfield against an average La Liga side – in other words, near the halfway line. He had played at centre-back just once before, against Porto in last season’s Europa League semi-final second leg, again when Villarreal had to field an attack-minded side, having lost the first leg 5-1.

The second odd part of the formation was the use of Cristian Zapata at right-back. He had played that position for Udinese back in early 2009, but is very much a centre-back shoved out of position.

When Villarreal moved into attacking positions in the first half, they had no width down the right

This meant an odd, lopsided shape to Villarreal when they attacked. Zapata took up the role of an outside centre-back in a three-man defence, with he and Soriano spreading to the flanks. Oriol played as a wing-back, providing width down the left and stretching the play.

Villarreal only played across two-thirds of the pitch, however, because Zapata rarely made forward runs, limiting their presence down the right. With Cani and Javier Camuñas playing as interiores and moving inside, Villarreal frequently had five players in central positions, Oriol on the left, and no-one on the right.

Odense were aware of the lack of width, and therefore defended extremely narrow, forcing Villarreal to play through small spaces through the middle. Moves were too slow, and Villarreal went in 0-0 at half-time.

Garrido didn’t change personnel or positions at half-time, but did make changes. First, he got his side to play quicker when Odense were drawn up the pitch, taking advantage of space in behind. Second, and more crucially, he asked Nilmar and Cani/Camuñas to work the right-hand side – and this new threat took Odense by surprise. Balls were slid into the channel for Villarreal to collect on the move, and cross quickly.

There were three obvious outcomes from the sudden focus down the right. The first goal came with Nilmar running into the channel, then crossing for Giuseppe Rossi to score. The second came from Cani staying wide, then sending in a superb curling cross for Rossi to finish again. Furthermore, Odense’s left-sided midfielder, Bashkim Kadrii, suddenly had to do some defensive work, and was dismissed for two bookable offences.

Villarreal probably made winning this game more difficult than it should have been, but it was an interesting starting shape from Garrido, and a clever change of strategy midway through.

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