On a late Sunday night, Villarreal faced Real Betis in one of the thrilling clashes in La Liga this weekend. Seven matches remaining and both teams are still pushing for their expectations. Real Betis are currently six points separated from the Europa League spot. They wanted to capitalize Valencia’s loss against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night to narrow that deficit.

For Villarreal, their hope of surviving from relegation was still realistic as Real Valladolid had lost against Sevilla. They only needed a draw to move out of the relegation zone and that was their goal when entering the match. But things have turned the opposite way when Giovanni Lo Celso opened the score for Betis. It was not until two minutes later that Villarreal got their equaliser through Ramiro Funes Mori’s header. In the second half, Betis continued to dominate the game. As a result, Lo Celso scored his third goal in his second match against Villarreal to seal the game for Betis.

Our tactical analysis will help you take a closer look at the interesting tactical battle between Quique Setién and Javier Calleja. At the same time, we will use statistics to point out what helped Betis secured three points against a stubborn Villarreal side.


Betis switched their formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-2-1 for this match. Setién opted to use the same back line that he used when facing Villarreal in November. Cristian Tello moved into a left wing-back and replacing Sídnei at the same time. Jesé Rodríguez and Lo Celso occasionally swapped position with each other as their responsibility was to lead the line. New-signing Diego Lainez was kept on the bench for the second consecutive match.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Real Betis and Villarreal’s lineup [Wyscout.com]
Villarreal made one change to their lineup that went through the crazy draw against Barcelona last week. Álvaro González was suspended due to the red card he received and was replaced by veteran Daniele Bonera. Young prospect Manu Morlanes continued to start alongside fan-favourite Santi Cazorla. Samuel Chukwueze and Karl Toko Ekambi had a terrific game last week and Calleja kept his trust in them.

Villarreal’s style of play

Villarreal approached the game with a conservative style of play. Calleja was aware of Betis’ fast attacking play and he chose to line his side in a 5-4-1 when not in possession. Mario Gaspar and Alfonso Pedraza would occupy the flanks, leaving the central area for the centre-backs. Chukwueze and Vicente Iborra joined up with Morlanes and Cazorla to create a shield in front of the defensive line. Their aim was to overload their own half and prevent Betis from building attacks.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Villarreal’s 5-4-1 formation

Up front, the strikers would press aggressively and prevent Betis from play out from the back. They usually formed a rectangular pressing shape when they pressed high up the pitch. As demonstrated below, they pressed Betis’ defensive players and forced them to play long balls. In the process, they would surround the creative playmaker, in this case, is Sergio Canales, when he tried to provide a passing option.

When Betis played long passes, it would be cleared easily by Ramiro Funes Mori and Víctor Ruiz due to their aerial superiority. But, since the home side was already acknowledged that, they decided to circulate the ball.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Villarreal’s high press

When Daniele Bonera was subbed off due to injury, Villarreal changed their lineup into a diamond 4-3-1-2. Santiago Cáseres now acted as a single pivot in front of Morlanes and Cazorla. This allowed the former Arsenal man to be more creative in his play. Using his passing and dribbling ability, he could start a counter-attack whenever possible.

Iborra now acted as an attacking midfielder behind Chukwueze and Ekambi and his responsibility was to link the midfield with the attackers. He did a pretty good job in this match, registered 24 accurate passes and won 12 duels.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Villarreal’s lineup throughout the match

Their principles remained the same, still pressed high and aggressively. But there was a slight change when Villarreal was in possession. Cáseres would locate himself between the centre-backs like a half-back whenever Pedraza and Mario joined the attack. He would do the same thing when his team tried to build from the back.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Villarreal’s 4-3-1-2 formation

When the away side changed into a 4-3-1-2, it allowed Iborra and the strikers to press Betis’ centre-backs more easily. They would create a 3v3 situation while their teammates marked other players. This would suffocate Pau López’s passing option and he was made to play a long pass. An intelligent pressing system was adopted by Calleja and Betis was struggled to build from the back throughout the game.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Villarreal’s 3v3 situation

But, there are downsides in their defensive structure. First, when the midfield line tried to press high up the pitch, it would create spaces between the lines. Betis capitalized this error to score the opening goal which we would get to that later in the article. Second, similar to the first one, when a player decided to step out of the line, he would create spaces that Betis’ players could easily utilize.

When they changed their formation to a 4-3-1-2, this problem started to show more frequently. Cáseres and the other defensive players don’t have much time to cover that space up. As a result, it could lead to a dangerous attack created by Betis similar to the situation below. Fortunately for Villarreal, Joaquín couldn’t capitalize his chance to make it three for the home side.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Joaquín moved in the spaces behind Villarreal’s defensive line

Betis’ style of play

Setién’s side approached the game with their familiar style of play. Adopting a high-tempo pressing game, this allowed Betis to won the ball more frequently. They registered a total of 55 duels won and dispossessed 14 times. The numbers look amazing at it is, but it started to become a frequent sight for those who have followed Setién.

He always wanted his team to dominate the opponent with their distinctive pressing style of play. Winning the ball high up the pitch, play with a high defensive line, setting up offside traps and press aggressively. Those are the tactical point that we usually see when watching Setién’s side, and this match was not an exception. This forced Villarreal to sit back in their own half and allowed Betis to control the tempo of the game.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Betis’ challenges successful [Wyscout.com]
When in possession, Betis favoured short passes to build up their attacks. Against a stubborn structure like Villarreal’s, they were happy to circulate the ball and waited for spaces to open up. That was why they held a majority of possession, which stood at 56%. That advantage allowed Betis to be more precise in their chances and capitalized Villarreal’s errors.

As mentioned earlier, Villarreal usually left spaces between the lines whenever the midfielders press high up. In the build-up before Lo Celso’s first goal, we can see how Andrés Guardado was being left with free spaces. Villarreal’s midfielders and strikers were too focus on William Carvalho’s pass towards Zouhair Feddal. In the meantime, Aïssa Mandi already noticed Guardado’s situation. He immediately made a through ball towards the Mexican midfielder right after receiving the ball from Feddal.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Guardado moved in the spaces behind Villarreal’s midfield line…

Villarreal’s high defensive line was caught up immediately. There were four Betis players making a run into the spaces behind the defensive line and they also created a 4v5 situation. Lo Celso was in a superior state to receive the ball and dribble towards Asenjo’s goal. And the Argentinian midfielder made an incisive lob to open the score for Betis.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
…He then made a through ball to Lo Celso, who opened the score for Betis.

Lo Celso was also the standout performer of this match. His work rate throughout the match helped Betis in building attacks and in defence too. Beside two goals, he also made 26 accurate passes and won four duels. His action heatmap showed his willingness to move across the pitch and contribute to the team’s play. With that working attitude, there is no doubt that he will continue to become a key player in Quique Setién’s system next season.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Lo Celso’s heatmap (left corner)

As dominated as they are, but Betis also showed some problems throughout the game. Usually, it was minor errors and Setién noticed them immediately, but Funes Mori’s equaliser showed a problem in Betis’ marking system. In this situation, Betis had more players compared to Villarreal in the box.

Carvalho was due to marked Funes Mori but the Portuguese decided to follow the ball and left the ex-Everton man free. Surprisingly, there was only Canales and Marc Bartra noticed how free Funes Mori was. But they didn’t mark him up because they were instructed to follow another Villarreal player.

real betis villarreal la liga tactical analysis analysis
Funes Mori was left in free space and he capitalized it with an equaliser


Betis and Villarreal have treated their fans with an interesting tactical battle. It was also a hard-fought battle between two excellent managers on the touchline. In the end, Quique Setién’s side showed their class upon Javier Calleja’s Villarreal to secure three points. This helped Betis to get nearer to a European spot and fulfil their expectation.

Villarreal was unfortunate to lose this match and they deserved to salvage something from it. But on a day that the strikers were lacked sharpness and was being overplayed, Villarreal has done their best. It is not the time for them to look at this match as a setback. They still have a Europa League quarter-final with fierce rival Valencia and a relegation battle to win. Their last six matches in La Liga is the best opportunity for them to get the most out of it and move out of the bottom three. And maybe, just maybe, they could turn out to be a dark horse in the Europa League.