Villarreal and Real Betis came got into this match after unpromising starts to the season. Both teams were sitting in the middle of the table with 8 points. Both teams know they have the quality to achieve greater success and are motivated to beat the other.
As the home side, Villarreal was just slightly better throughout the first two-thirds of the match, but the fresh legs of Samuel Chukwueze won them a penalty that created the much-needed advantage. As Betis rushed forward in search of an equaliser, Villarreal hit them with lightning transitions, with the devastating pace of Chukwueze once again a key factor. In the end, Villarreal celebrated their four-goal advantage, while Betis officially became the worst defence in La Liga.
Villarreal started this match in a 4-1-4-1, with Raúl Albiol and Rubén Peña – who replaced the injured captain Mario Gaspar – in defence, Vicente Iborra and Santi Cazorla, A. Zambo Anguissa and Gerard Moreno in midfield, and K. Toko Ekambi the lone striker.
Nabil Fekir’s injury forced Real Betis’ manager Rubi to once again use the makeshift front two of Loren Morón and Borja Iglesias. The defensively limited Sergio Canales joined William Carvalho to form the double pivot, while the two wingers are Álex Moreno and the evergreen Joaquín.
Betis’ build-up struggle
In the last two season under Quique Setién, Betis was famous for insisting on playing the ball out from the back no matter how intense the opponent’s high press is. However, new coach Rubi brought changes to their build-up approach. In this match, they tended to play long balls to left winger Moreno or a forward when facing Villarreal’s high press.
In the construction phase, their centre-backs spread wide, while the full-backs and double pivot provide passing options by staying deep. However, these six players were somewhat isolated from the front players, thus having to go long more than usual.
But how did Villarreal force them to do that so often?
Villarreal defended in a 4-1-4-1. Their aim is to stay compact and cut off ground passing lanes to the wingers and forwards. Ekambi tried to close down the defenders – but not relentlessly. The front midfield four stay narrow and tried to contain the ball near the full-back and the double pivot, and press any of the three should they have the ball. The left-winger, especially, needs to be alert to press Betis’ right-back Emerson when the latter had the ball in time to cut his passing lane to Joaquín.
Joaquín almost never stayed wide but rather moved more centrally to combine with the pivots and forwards better, while leaving the flank open for the energetic Emerson. Villarreal’s midfield covered passing lanes to him well, making it difficult for Betis to progress centrally through short passes. Here, Moi closed down Emerson and blocked his passing lane to Joaquín.
When the ball was passed back to Betis’ centre-backs, Villarreal’s front midfield four would push up to press intensely and force Betis to move deeper and deeper or launch a long ball to escape the press. On Betis’ left side, winger Moreno stayed much wider than Joaquín, but Peña would reduce short passes to him by following him high up the pitch. However, Betis tried to take advantage of that by launching quality long balls to the space behind Peña for Moreno. Moreno is faster than Peña, and can also use his skills to beat the latter in 1v1s. Sometimes, it would be Pedraza who rushed forward to exploit that space instead.
Peña was bad defensively and failed to cope with Moreno and Pedraza’s skill and pace. He was dribbled past six times in this match (4 by Moreno, 2 by Pedraza).
In the example below, Villarreal tried to push Betis deeper with their high press. Pedraza had to pass back to Feddal, but the centre-back quickly sent a long ball to the space behind Peña for Moreno.
Betis’s slow and rigid build-up gave Villarreal enough time to move up and press as a unit. The full-backs’ positioning, in particular, did not help circulate the ball efficiently.
In the following example, Betis’ keeper Joel Robles had just escaped Ekambi’s press by passing to Emerson. Emerson was facing his own goal, so it’s hard for him to pass the ball forward. In addition, his positioning was too high to help his team play from the back – here he had neither time nor space. A better position would be around the red circle shown below.
On the other hand, his positioning was too low to provide a wide long ball option for Robles. Joaquín dragged left-back Quintillà with him into the half-space, and open up space on the wing for Emerson. A higher position (around the orange circle below)would also have made him more helpful in winning the second ball should Robles passed to a forward.
In reality, Emerson gave the ball away due to Moi’s press.
As Betis didn’t try to (or rather couldn’t) build up properly, in many cases their final third progression heavily relied on the front players holding up the ball and winning second balls. This tactic worked to some extent as their centre-backs and the double pivot are all capable of playing accurate long balls. Canales completed 11/13 of his long balls, Zou Feddal 13/18, and Carvalho 7/9.
If Betis successfully moved their unit forward and get close to the final third one way or another, Villarreal would retreat into an even more compact shape. Betis mainly tried to attack through the wings. In this phase, the pivots and Joaquin could exchange passes more efficiently around the centre and pull Villarreal narrow. They would then find players out wide who have time and space to cross the ball.
A good option for Betis is, again, beating Peña in 1v1s. Moreno and Pedraza tried to overlap and create 2v1s to give Peña even more trouble. As Villarreal’s right-wingers in different periods this match (Moreno, Moi and later Samuel Chukwueze) are all lazy and bad defensively, Peña’s position was continuously exploited. A few dangerous crosses were sent in, but the forwards couldn’t capitalise.
Here, Peña was too slow to react to Pedraza’s overlapping run. Pedraza received the ball from Moreno and successfully crossed into the box.
Villarreal in possession
Villarreal used a 4-2-3-1 formation in possession. They tried to build from the back. Betis would attempt to stop this by pressing high in a 4-4-2, with the wingers rather narrow and close to the strikers. When a Villarreal centre-back got the ball from the short goal kick, Betis’ two strikers would charge towards the two centre-backs and force them to play the ball into either of their full-backs.
The ball-near winger would now rush from the half-space to close down the full-back, effectively blocked his central passing lane, while the ball-far winger would stay more central to keep the pressing shape. The ball-far striker would now close down the deepest pivot.
Here, we can see that Joaquin and Iglesias’s position made pivot Iborra a much less ideal passing option, which meant Villarreal’s right-back was forced to pass to the right-winger, who would then be pressed by Betis’s left-back and had to pass back. That was how the away side tried to stop Villarreal’s forward progression.
However, Villarreal was more effective than Betis at weathering the high press. Whenever that happened, Betis retreat to a 5-3-2 shape, with Pedraza becoming a third centre-back, while Joaquin tucked inside to stay close to Canales and Carvalho.
It’s a rather sensible choice considering Villarreal’s asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 in attack. Cazorla roamed free in his number ten role, acting as the team’s main creative force. Moreno, who started from the right, is a forward by nature and would start drifting centrally in attack, occupying pockets of space between Betis’ midfield and defence.
That left the whole right flank for the offensive-minded Peña, who was often in acres of space as Villarreal left side-oriented build-up forced Betis’ whole unit towards their right. Betis’ Moreno is a poor defender, and Peña exploited this by either putting crosses into the box without too much difficulty or make late runs into the box.
Villarreal got their best chance in the first half through a left-side combination and Peña’s run into space behind Moreno. After some passing down the left-wing, Cazorla got the ball and drifted inward, and almost instantly found Peña’s run into the box. Moreno was looking at Cazorla and had no idea where Peña was.
Besides that chance, there was not much created offensively from either team. However, Villarreal got the first goal of the match from a corner, with Ekambi easily beating Canales (why Canales?) and slot home.
The Chukwueze effect
Despite the lack of chance creation, Betis found the equaliser just two minutes into the second half, with right-back Emerson’s thunderstrike from Iglesias’ strong hold-up and layoff. After that, Betis played better and push Villarreal deep into their own half. However, Villarreal defended the central areas well, and Betis was left with swinging crosses from the flanks.
This naturally (and fortunately) forced Villarreal to rely on counter-attacks. Ekambi, Moreno and especially substitution Chukwueze are quick players and brought nightmares to the Betis defence.
In the second half, Villarreal defended in a 4-4-2, with Chukwueze the right-winger, and Moreno played alongside Ekambi – both forwards stayed high and waited for the counter.
Chukwueze defended deeper, but will rush forward at great speed in transition. He is a real force of nature with his combination of dribbling skill, pace and strength, and the few Betis players in defensive transition couldn’t do anything to stop him. Moreno was too easily beaten, while Canales was weak and often poorly positioned to stop his cutting inside. In addition, Canales and especially Carvalho’s pace are no match for Villarreal’s three speedsters.
After Cazorla’s penalty, which stemmed from Chukwueze’s unstoppable inside cut, Rubi replaced left-back Pedraza with wing forward Cristian Tello. This made Betis extremely vulnerable on that side, and Chukwueze and Moreno exploited it well. The home side went on the finish the match 5-1.
This analysis has shown that the introduction of Chukwueze proved vital to the Yellow Submarine’s demolition. They once again hurt their opposition with quality counter-attacks. They are now the best attack in La Liga, with Moreno currently the top scorer. This is an improved defensive performance from them – such displays will provide the base for their lethal attack. They have what it takes to win a European spot.
For Betis, once again their talented midfield couldn’t create enough chances for the strikers. Moreover, they are officially the league’s worst defence – not a promising combination. If things don’t improve soon, Rubi may be sacked sooner than people would have expected. Betis fans’ Champions League ambition has gradually become merely a wish.
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