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Villarreal vs Real Madrid, La Liga: Match Preview

All the tactics, player roles, statistical trends, and bits and bobs that are a must know before watching the game.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

How have Villarreal been doing?

Villarreal have had a dip in form of late, winning only 1 of their last 4 fixtures. Their one win came against Rayo on December 6th, but otherwise they have failed to impress in their most recent 3-3 draw with Viktoria Plzen and in their losses to lowly Huesca (yes Huesca) in the Copa and Getafe in the league. The Yellow Submarines are absolutely leaking goals at the moment and Cristiano Ronaldo and co. will be licking their lips when it comes time to play at El Madrigal. But recent form can mean little when it comes time to topple giants, and Villarreal still have everything to play for as they sit 5th in the league standings only 6 points off Real Madrid.

What to expect tactically from Villarreal

The bright yellow squadron have mostly lined up in a simple 4-4-2 to utilize the pace and off-the-shoulder running of Leo Baptistao and Roberto Soldado. The two will look to combine and create 2-vs-2 situations against our center back pairing, so the likes of Pepe and Ramos or Pepe and Nacho (whichever combination plays) will have to be extremely organized to deal with the dual threat. In addition, Villarreal might make some headway down Madrid’s left flank, as Villarreal have an affinity for concentrating the ball on their right wing. With Ronaldo often the player the furthest forward for Madrid and with Marcelo enjoying a complete wingback role, it is easy to see Villarreal priming themselves to hit fast and hard down the right. Things might become especially tricky if Soldado and Baptistao play narrow and make runs down the right-center of the pitch to support whoever plays on Villarreal’s right flank. This could create a 3-vs-1 situation against Madrid’s left center back. Considering the fact that Villarreal love to play down the right flank as much as possible, this could become especially problematic for Madrid.

Villarreal's touches

Villarreal's touches

If Villarreal decide to play such a fluid system, whom they pick in the center of midfield could become vitally important. In a 4-4-2 it is important for the CM’s to simply hold their position to ensure tactical and defensive stability. The three most likely candidates to start in this role are Bruno, Manu Trigueros, and Jonathan Dos Santos. Bruno looks very likely to start as he possesses more positional discipline than the other two and is also more defensively minded. That leaves one more spot, which could go to either of the two remaining players. Jonathan Dos Santos possesses greater creativity as evidenced by his superior key passes per game statistic (1.5 per game as opposed to Trigueros’s 0.5 passes per game), but Trigueros’s affinity for the long ball could see him edge ahead of the former Barcelona academy product as Villarreal could see most of their attacking opportunities arrive on the counter.

At the back things are rather simple, as Victor Ruiz, Eric Bailly, Mario, and Jaime Costa should take their places in the back-four. As mentioned before, Villarreal could look to play an opportunistic game and thus their back-four will probably sit deep and look to prevent runners from getting in behind them. But it is also highly possible that Villarreal play compact and put pressure on Madrid’s midfielders to create opportunities higher up the pitch.

What to expect from Real Madrid

When it comes to dealing with Villarreal defensively, a lot depends on who plays. If our captain is in, you can expect him to play a very proactive role as the team’s stopper, in order to challenge Soldado and Baptistao in the air and cut off attacks before they become dangerous. Following this logic, Pepe will be the sweeper and will look to use his experience and positioning to protect Madrid from any mistakes that Ramos might make or prevent Villarreal’s forwards from getting a clear 1-on-1 with the keeper. But if Nacho and Pepe play, you can expect a much flatter back four and it will be up to the CM’s to challenge for the ball and prevent Villarreal’s forwards from getting too much space in between the midfield and defense.

In midfield we can expect any sort of combination of Modric, Kroos, James, Isco, Casemiro, and Kovacic, with the emphasis placed on retaining control of the game and switching the ball from flank-to-flank with efficiency and significant speed. After our matches vs Getafe and Malmo, it looks like Benitez is finally settling on a possession oriented system and it should be an expectation that Madrid dominate most of the possession. The key question lies around whether they can create enough decisive chances proportional to the time they have the ball, and if recent form means anything, we should be just fine on that front.

Up top, BBC should continue and there isn’t really much to say about them that we don’t know already. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Bale, are on fire at the moment and with Villarreal’s defense looking very shaky, they should each get several chances to get either a goal or an assist or both.

Key Statistics:


Have conceded 9 goals in their last 4 matches.

Have conceded 12.1 shots per game

Have won 15.1 aerial duels per game

Real Madrid

Have scored 17 goals in their last 4 games

Have conceded 1 goal in their last 4 games

Have won 10.4 aerial duels per game

Bits and Pieces

A special mention should be made for Villarreal’s Cédric Bakambu, who is Villarreal’s top scorer in the league with 6 goals. Nearly half of his 11 appearances have come from the bench, and he could be a real X-factor for the Yellow Submarines if the game is in the balance late into the second half.

Cristiano Ronaldo has found the back of the net at least once on each of his 5 visits to El Madrigal.


Even with all of Villarreal’s problems over the last couple of weeks Madrid can take nothing for granted when they face off against the Yellow Submarines. Villarreal always make things interesting when facing The Whites and this will be one of the sterner tests Madrid will have to face before the winter break arrives.

Prediction: Madrid 3 Villarreal 1

(All statistics taken from and

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