UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses Villarreal's stunning backs-to-the-wall victory in Germany, limiting Bayern to one goal before snatching a place in the semi-finals.
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Villarreal advanced to their second UEFA Champions League semi-final, 16 years after their first, with a display of impressive discipline and organisation against Bayern München on Tuesday.
For coach Unai Emery, it was another feather in the cap after their round of 16 victory against Juventus and it leaves the UEFA Europa League holders one step from their first Champions League final. In this article brought to you by Fedex, the UEFA Technical Observers' panel analyses a success built on firm defensive foundations.
1-0: Robert Lewandowski (52)
Lewandowski's 13th and final goal of this Champions League campaign followed a misplaced Dani Parejo pass under pressure as he looked to play from the back. Kingsley Coman intercepted the ball and Bayern switched play at lightning speed, Leon Goretzka playing a quick pass forward to Thomas Müller, who teed up Lewandowski for a low shot from the edge of the box that went in off a post.
1-1: Samu Chukwueze (88)
At fault for Bayern's goal, Parejo showed excellent vision as he turned away from pressure and picked out Giovani Lo Celso, who carried the ball across halfway and fed Gerard Moreno with a pass behind Bayern centre-back Dayot Upamecano. Played onside by substitute Alphonso Davies, Moreno spotted Chukwueze's run and played a diagonal ball beyond Davies to the far post, where the Nigerian, with a left-footed strike, scooped the ball over Manuel Neuer. It was Villarreal's only shot on target.
Player of the Match: Raúl Albiol (Villarreal)
The Villarreal skipper took the Player of the Match award for his excellence at the heart of the Spanish side's defence. The UEFA Technical Observer panel said: "He demonstrated great leadership on the pitch – a real role model. He was very strong in the air and in one-on-one situations. He read the game with intelligence."
After setting his side up in a 4-2-3-1 in the first leg, home coach Julian Nagelsmann reverted to the 3-2-4-1 he had deployed in the round of 16 home win against Salzburg. This meant a back three of Benjamin Pavard (No5), Upamecano (No2) and Lucas Hernández (No21) that kept a high line and built up play with the support of one or both of the central midfielders, Joshua Kimmich (No6) and Goretzka (No8). Ahead of them were five attacking players: Coman (No11) and Leroy Sané (No10) on the wings, with Müller (No25) and Jamal Musiala (No42) operating inside behind Lewandowski (No9).
Facing Villarreal's deep defensive block, the Bavarian side sought width from Coman and Sané (who provided seven crosses each), while Müller and Musiala worked between the lines and Lewandowski, or an attacking midfielder, tried to tie down the central defenders. The aim was to get behind the Villarreal defence, be it via an overload on the flanks, a switch of play (e.g. from one of the centre-backs to Sané as seen in the video above) or a direct pass from the back line to the front.
The visitors employed the same 4-4-2 system and starting XI as in the first leg, and they benefited from a solid base, beginning with a goalkeeper, Gerónimo Rulli (No13), who exuded a sense of security, plus a back four guided by the experienced captain, Albiol (No3). Ahead of them were two central midfielders, Étienne Capoue (No6) and Parejo (No5), tasked with closing spaces in the central areas. Of that pair, Capoue focused on his defensive duties while Parejo provided defenders with a passing outlet.
Villarreal had two powerful wide players on the pitch in Lo Celso (No17) and Francis Coquelin (No19) and, up front, Gerard Moreno (No7), who operated around Arnaut Danjuma (No15). It was the collective defensive effort above all that caught the eye, and the second clip in the video shows how Lo Celso dropped back alongside right-back Juan Foyth (No8) at times to form a back five.
Villarreal's display bore the stamp of Emery's work in instilling clearly recognisable principles in defence and attack, including a well-oiled offside trap. As the video illustrates, they kept a deep, compact block out of possession, seeking to shut down the central passing lanes with excellent movement within their team structure. Their transitional play was another feature – both quick transitions to defence or, as is highlighted in the first sequence, rapid counterattacks via vertical or diagonal passes.
At the back, Albiol was pivotal for his leadership, reading of the game and powers of anticipation. Indeed, together with Benfica's Jan Vertonghen, he made the most clearances in this week's second-leg matches (13). It was not just him: Capoue (ten) and Pau Torres (seven) were next on that list, while no other Champions League team matched the collective total of 48 clearances made by Emery's men.
According to the UEFA observer, "Emery deserves great praise as he developed a clear match plan and passed it on to his team. Each player stuck to this plan and knew exactly what to do and what was expected of them." This manifested itself in the good positioning which denied space to a Bayern side who struggled to create clear opportunities, especially in the first half. Though they had 24 shots, only four were on goal.
For Bayern, Coman put in a notable performance: with his 1v1 ability, he registered nine take-ons, the most in this week's quarter-final games (at a 66.7% success rate). When Coman stayed wide, Sané sometimes dribbled inside into the congested areas, albeit he did complete four of his seven crosses – one of which provided Müller with a free header that he put wide in the 71st minute.
Bayern intensified their pressing game after the restart and this brought Lewandowski's goal, which followed Coman's interception. Thereafter, the German champions took more risks as they chased a winner and, with their defenders high up the field, there was space for counterattacks. Emery looked to profit by sending on Chukwueze and Alfonso Pedraza in the 84th minute to provide more speed and power on the counter. He was rewarded with Chukwueze's decisive strike.
Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern coach: "The key was in the first leg. That's where we lost the tie. We didn't play well then; today we were very good. Tactically and intensity-wise, it was one of our best games in the last few months.
"We had a big chance in the first half with Jamal [Musiala]. In the second, we should have made it 2-0 through Thomas [Müller]. That was a sitter. You don't get many of those. They defended in a very disciplined way, very deep. The one time they were able to break, we didn't have our structure."
Unai Emery, Villarreal coach: "It turned out to be a perfect game in defence. It's the only way against sides with this devastating quality in attack.
"In these competitions, to achieve things you have to leave big teams behind you along the way. The draw's always important, but to do something you have to beat the favourites. We took a step forward with Juventus and it reaffirmed our ability and our belief."