Villarreal didn’t stand up to Liverpool
Everything has a limit and a ceiling. Villarreal, based on its resources, had already jumped over the top. Of course, those with a particularly romantic attitude might have expected the Yellow Submarine to repeat what they did to Juventus and Bayern, but the majority believed that Unai Emery’s side would not pull through after all. It must be said that that was also the case in the previous stages. But if a miracle happens once, a miracle happens twice, then the likelihood of a miracle for the third time in a row is very low. Otherwise the very notion of a miracle would have to be reconsidered.
But it should be noted that Villarreal remained true to itself and in the first part of the match was clearly reminiscent of what took Bayern and Juventus. Yes, probably, this time they were pressed particularly hard and powerful, but the main thing remained – Villarreal avoided conceding goals at the limit of concentration. “The Reds shot from afar, hit the ball from distance, made mass raids and bogged down passes and crosses. But in situations where others would have had their heads bashed in, Villarreal’s players kept their cool. The previous successes of this tactic lent extra confidence. Even the ringing of the bar after Alcantara’s powerful shot did not embarrass them.
However, using such a very dangerous and yet based on some luck, not just personal skill, approach could also lead to trouble.
The Price of the Moment
Ironically, both goals against Villarreal came as the flipside of previously effective defensive tactics. “The yellows, in all the matches where they heroically survived, boldly threw themselves under strikes, blocked them, acting in roughly the same pattern. This is at the level of reflexes, which saved their lives more than once. Even in the match against Liverpool, you can remember a lot of these episodes. So when Estupiñan rushed without hesitation to put his foot in front of Henderson’s cross, it wasn’t some spontaneous decision or improvisation. It was a reflex. It’s a task.
And fate just happened to have it so that the ball would curl into the goal in a clever arc, confusing the goalkeeper. In the first half, by the way, in a similar way Albiol blocked a shot in front of the penalty area – the ball ricocheted off his leg near the bar, also disorienting the goalkeeper. The cost of approach. But the approach bore fruit, and it is impossible to fight back under constant pressure without at least such simple and working methods in the arsenal.
It was the exit of this goal from the verified methodology of defense that knocked the Villarreal players out of morale a little. But it was enough for a new wave of Liverpool’s attack, in which the Reds used another of their own defensive techniques against the Yellows – the desire to play clearly in the line.
“Villarreal” is well trained in defense to line up well, creating a high risk of offside for running opponents. So the rhythm of attacks is disrupted, if not directly “caught” in an artificial offside position. And here the slightest excitement associated with the goal just conceded prevented him from taking one more extra step. Mane, who repeated Drogba’s record, was on the line with the defender when Salah passed. A few centimeters more – and offside. But even here, the mechanism of Villarreal’s defense, working reliably, produced the tiniest of failures.
Of course, all this does not mean that only the actions of Villarreal players led to goals. Liverpool’s barrage of attacks was the main thing in their victory. But I want to emphasize that even these missed goals by Emery’s team is not the result of its retreat from tactics and methodology, but a minor side effect. But according to the law of large numbers, it still had to have an effect given such a huge number of approaches to the goal by the opponents. Even with the utmost concentration, which Villarreal never lost.
Villarreal kept their focus
Even after conceding two goals, Villarreal didn’t lose it. Going on the offensive, changing tactics in an attempt to win back at least a goal, to reduce the gap – all this would have been fatal for Villarreal. If 85% of the game was decided right now, it would have been 99%. And then there’s the return game.
Obviously, Villarreal’s chances will not be higher. Maybe they will even be lower, because they will have to play defense and open up, which they are not used to. But it’s better to have extra days to prepare such a maneuver and compose a surprise for the opponent than to fly in the same match here and now to fix things to get an even more deplorable result.
“Villarreal” took a very cold-blooded approach to assess their situation at the score 0-2. And continued to play in the same collected style which characterized them before a couple of conceded goals in three minutes. It was as if they had never happened. On the other hand, Liverpool also slowed down a little, realizing that the task was now solved, and on the road it could be formalized into a finished job.
The Villarreal phenomenon is in any case surprising. Exactly in terms of the approach to these “life and death” matches in the Champions League. But if only concentration and attitude could solve global problems.
Here we can talk about the complete neutralization of Villarreal, which had only 15 attacks for the entire game. “Liverpool, on the other hand, attacked 93 times in 90 minutes, roughly one attack per minute. It was extremely difficult to resist this machine. And in the attacking “Villarreal” noted only one shot the entire game. And the only attempt by Lo Celso was inaccurate. “Liverpool took 20 shots for a dominant team.
But only five of them were on target, which meant that the visitors’ defence left their opponents uncomfortable enough to shoot unprepared. Therefore, in the first half, for example, long-range shots or shots from the field prevailed, which lacked precision. Hidden here is the merit of Villarreal’s defense. Luis Diaz was the hardest hitter on the pitch with five attempts. Salah and Mane each had four.
Here, too, everything is quite predictable. “Liverpool had total possession of the ball, not allowing their opponents to enjoy even a little control. Although it’s unlikely that Villarreal counted on that – that’s not the main point of their game. The Reds’ pass accuracy was high, based on their constant control of the ball. Villarreal, on the other hand, have low passes even for the counterattacking model. Usually, for a good counterattack without possession, the figure tends to 80 percent.
Here we can see the Liverpool pressure, which quickly and high covered the opponent, depriving him of the opportunity to raise his head to launch a quick counterattack. In total, Villarreal made only 182 accurate passes, while Liverpool made 645. In doing so, the visitors ran 110 kilometers, while the hosts ran 108. Quite a bit for a Champions League match. More “ran” the ball. “Reds” were passing it and “yellows” were trying to intercept it.