Following a convincing 3-0 victory against Sevilla, Barcelona travels away to clash with their ex-coach’s team, Villarreal in the infamous fortress of La Cerámica. For the first time since his departure from Camp Nou, Quique Setién gets to face his former team for the first time, and his team will surely look to get a sweet revenge in a tough contest on the Blaugrana.
Unai Emery left the Yellow Submarine in the middle of October to join Premier League outfit Aston Villa. Despite being an unfathomable character sometimes, Emery is undisputedly a great manager, who had done a great job in his 2-year tenure at the Spanish club.
Keeping this in mind, the managerial added value to an already decent squad makes Villarreal a force to reckon with, rising from the mid-table teams to fight for the European places. With the likes of Dani Parejo, Gerard Moreno or Giovanni Lo Celso, the Yellow Submarine possesses huge talent in their hands who, with the right coaching, can produce such memorable miracles that they can even reach the semi-finals of the Champions League as they did last year.
In such a situation, the choice of the future manager crucially affects the state of the club, and compared to the high-profile free agent coaches available on the market like Pochettino or Tuchel, the appointment of Quique Setién, who has been jobless since being fired from the Catalans’ bench in 2020, was a bold move, and the results are mixed accordingly.
The new chapter didn’t start for Setién as well as he might have desired, but the World Cup break visibly helped him to practise and develop his game at his new club and prepare for the second part of the season properly. The upswing, though, was short-lived, and Villarreal’s fluctuation continued, resulting in a hectic line of results.
With an important 2-1 win against Valencia, an obligatory 5-1 against Cartagena in the Copa del Rey and a surprising yet deserved 2-1 win over Real Madrid, the Yellow Submarine started off well at the restart. However, the last 5 games have been more than uderwhelming, with Setién’s men collecting a total of 4 points against the quitet of Celta Vigo, Real Madrid, Girona, Rayo Vallecano and Elche.
But, looking behind the results, what can be expected from this unpredictable crew? First of all, just like Setién’s other teams, Villarreal likes to have the lion’s share of possession and dominate with the ball. Moreover, as we could see against Real Madrid, even against the big teams, they are brave enough to go out and act as the dominant team, which could be expected against them tomorrow as well.
Such kind of an opponent is rarely seen against a club like Barcelona, one playing with a proactive approach. Accordingly, we will most probably meet a high press and an aggressive intent to retain the ball, although we are doing the same, resulting in a genuine battle for the ball.
However, this can also be turned to our favour. Villarreal’s high press implicates the defensive line being drawn higher on the pitch too, leaving plenty of space behind which can be exploited with precise counterattacks. While the Pau Torres–Raúl Albiol duo seemingly doesn’t work as well as it did last year, and new signing Juanpe also doesn’t excel defending in a high line, with the likes of attackers Barcelona have, it will be a massive weapon for the Blaugrana to exploit.
With the midfielders’ ability to retain the ball and resist to the pressure, the capability of Frenkie, Gavi and Pedri to turn and drive the ball forward can create massive chances against the pressing block of Villarreal. Complementing the technicality of these players with the physical presence of Kessié, it can be a crucial addition to win the midfield battle and control the game.
A tough task to overcome, without a doubt, and one that is hardly seen at the level of Barcelona. Quique Setién’s men, even in a bad form, can pose such a challenge that Xavi’s team rarely experience, truly giving the Blaugranas a run for their money.