Five Takeaways From Emery’s First Month In Charge At Villarreal
Written by Euan McTear
“Emery is a very bad coach.” “We tried to warn you about Emery.” “Emery will be the first coach fired.” “You ruined my accumulator!”
Those were just some of the less-than-pleased replies to Villarreal’s first full-time tweet of the 2020/21 season. It was September 13th and the Yellow Submarine had been held to a 1-1 draw at home by newly-promoted Huesca. Narrow wins over the struggling Basque sides Eibar and Alavés have followed, plus a 4-0 thrashing away at Barcelona and a goalless draw at Atlético Madrid. Overall, it has been a mixed but pretty underwhelming start to the new campaign for Unai Emery and Villarreal. Here comes a closer look at five of the main storylines so far.
1. The tactics have already evolved
Emery has only been in charge for one month of official matches, but already he has changed up his system. For the first three matches (1-1 draw at home to Huesca, 2-1 win at home to Eibar and 4-0 loss away at Barcelona), Villarreal set up in a 4-4-2 formation that had Paco Alcácer slightly further ahead of Gerard Moreno, even though there was a lot of fluidity as the pair shimmied around at the tip of attack.
Yet something wasn’t quite right. Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin didn’t look like Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin in the centre of the midfield, largely because they were being left with too much work to do. On paper, this was the same formation – a 4-4-2 – that they’d functioned so well in at Valencia, but football isn’t played on paper. There were a lot of differences, most obviously the fact that Villarreal’s wingers push far further forward than Valencia’s used to do.
Ahead of the fourth match of the season, a 3-1 win at home to Alavés, Emery changed things up. Whether he wanted to or not, he had to do something since Coquelin picked up an injury. So, for this match, Emery went for a 4-3-3 with Vicente Iborra in a holding midfield role and flanked by Parejo and Manu Trigueros, and with Gerard wide right, Alcácer at centre-forward and Moi Gómez wide left. They were much more defensively solid and only conceded because Sergio Asenjo had a brief moment of meltdown. Against Atlético Madrid, Villarreal repeated this system and drew 0-0, even limiting Atleti to zero shots on target. Let’s see if they keep Villaremeryball 2.0 for the upcoming fixtures.
2. Where is Kubo?
Even though Villarreal made several more important signings during the summer, the arrival of Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid was by far the most exciting. The club’s tweets about the Japanese youngster were 20 times more popular than their average social media posts, with Kubomania well and truly landing in Castellón.
Kubo, though, hasn’t been used as much as some expected: just 54 minutes so far across the opening five games. There are 15 other members of Emery’s squad who have played more minutes than the loanee and reports have emerged that claim Real Madrid are angry with his lack of game time.
But that game time will come. There will be plenty of minutes to go around once the cup competitions start and, as we saw at RCD Mallorca last season, it might just be that Kubo is taking some time to settle in. Once he does, he will surely be used more often by Emery. For now, though, it would be unfair on Moi Gómez and Samu Chukwueze to drastically cut their minutes when they’ve both been excellent so far – especially Moi Gómez.
3. The lack of academy players
When Emery arrived, he spoke of his desire to promote players from the Villarreal academy and to give them first-team minutes. “The academy is important, as there are players for the future and for the present,” he said.
However, the five stoppage-time minutes given to 19-year-old forward Fernando Niño in the opening match against Huesca are the only minutes Emery has handed out to non-senior players at the club. Left winger Álex Baena and right-back Lanchi – both also 19 years of age – have made it to the bench, even if they haven’t played yet, but that’s it.
As in the Kubo situation, though, the use of academy players will surely change with time. There’s a need to be patient right now and to realise that everyone will get an opportunity once the games come thick and fast.
4. Concern over the slow starts
One other theme from Emery’s first month on the job has been the way in which Villarreal have regularly started matches slowly. That was most obvious when they went to the Camp Nou and found themselves 4-0 down at half time, but they also trailed at the break at home to Huesca and conceded the first goal to Eibar too, before mounting a comeback.
If only second halves counted in this season, then Villarreal would be top of the table right now. They’ve won three of their second halves so far (Huesca, Eibar and Alavés) and have drawn two (Barcelona and Atlético), so would have a LaLiga-leading 11 points if only minutes 46 to 90 counted.
But, sadly for Emery and co., the first halves matter just as much as the second halves and Villarreal have the fifth-worst record in the division in the opening 45 minutes. They’ve only been leading once at the break (Alavés), have been drawing twice (Eibar and Atlético) and have been losing twice (Huesca and Barcelona). “We need to wake up quicker,” Emery has said. Yes, they do.
5. The season hasn’t really started yet
“Dreams are free and my dream is to win a trophy for Villarreal,” Emery said during his presentation as coach. Despite all the footballing success that has been enjoyed in Castellón over the past two decades, Villarreal still haven’t won a major trophy and Emery is keen to change that.
Of course, they’re not going to win the league title. So, this means that the trophies Villarreal are truly targeting haven’t even started yet. The Copa del Rey will bring fresh anticipation to the Estadio de la Cerámica when that gets underway in December, while the Europa League will get going later in October with a home match against Sivasspor on October 22nd and a trip to Qarabağ on October 29th. With Maccabi Tel Aviv the other team in the group, Villarreal should be confident in their odds to finish top of those standings and set themselves up for a serious run at a trophy that Emery has won three times.
If Emery is to leave a lasting legacy behind at Villarreal, it won’t come from a top-four finish. It’ll be achieved by winning a trophy. That part of the season hasn’t started yet, but work will begin soon on the quest to reach the final at the Stadion Energa Gdańsk in Poland. Incidentally, the stadium is bright yellow. What a night that would be if Villarreal can finally achieve European glory…
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