Talking Tactics: Unai Emery has Villarreal firing on all cylinders

Unai Emery is working wonders at Villarreal this season

Unai Emery is working wonders at Villarreal this season — which will come as a surprise to Arsenal fans. 

Emery, 49, was sacked by the Gunners last November after just 18 months in charge.

He returned to management with Villarreal eight months later and the club secured Europa League football under his guidance by finishing fifth last term.

The Yellow Submarine sit second in LaLiga going into Saturday’s home game with champions Real Madrid — but can they continue to upset the odds by inflicting the third defeat of Real’s league campaign?

The season so far

A Europa League finish in 2019-20 represented a successful campaign for Villarreal and expectations are even higher this time around after a spectacular start.

Emery’s men have been beaten just once in their first nine matches and only fellow surprise package Real Sociedad sit above them in the table

That solitary 4-0 loss to Barcelona aside, Villarreal have picked up five wins and three draws — including a credible 0-0 at much-fancied Atletico Madrid — so things could not be going much better.

An attacking approach

Villarreal are a potent attacking force under Unai Emery working wonders this season (pictured above) and their expected goal statistics suggest their performances are worthy of the team’s impressive strike rate.

Their 1.44 goals per 90 minutes is inside LaLiga’s top six teams and on-par with their expected goals tally of 1.49 per 90 minutes.

They are not a team who are overperforming in the final third, they are simply getting their just rewards for the volume of chances created.

A well-rounded team

Perhaps the most notable thing about this Villarreal side is their well-balanced nature.

A creative outfit who are carving out two big chances per 90 minutes (the third most in LaLiga), the Yellow Submarine are adept at winning the ball back high up the pitch — only three teams have won possession more times in the final third (five times per 90 minutes).

But they are equally resolute defensively, coming inside LaLiga’s top six for goals against per 90 minutes (1.11) and blocking an impressive number of their opponents’ shots (3.44) per match.

Key men

Former Borussia Dortmund forward Paco Alcacer enjoyed an excellent goals-to-games ratio in Germany and is continuing that record at Villarreal.

He has registered 0.66 goals per 90 minutes in the league this term and an average of 0.93 total contributions (goals and assists) per match.

But Villarreal are not reliant on the 27-year-old hitman as Gerard Moreno is level with Alcacer in the expected goals standings (0.55 per 90 minutes) and is averaging 0.59 goals per game in LaLiga.

A stern test

Real Madrid will provide a tough test for Villarreal when they head to El Madrigal — no team in Spain has created more big chances (2.63 per 90 minutes) than Zinedine Zidane’s men.

But there are weaknesses in this Madrid side, especially in defence.

Real have allowed a concerning 6.75 shots per game against them from inside the box this season, suggesting Villarreal have cause for optimism.

And victory over the reigning champs would be a huge statement of intent from one of LaLiga’s most exciting sides.

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