The stats don’t lie: Key Villarreal performers in La Liga, and why

As Villarreal gets ready to play a vital match against a Valladolid much needed for points, we look at the official La Liga stats to see where the impact this season has been. In combing through the data, some insights prove obvious, but others are quite surprising, or rather, reinforcing Emery’s dependency on a few key players.

So, what does the data say?

The impact of the Pau/Albiol partnership

In terms of overall team numbers, Villarreal excels in a few departments, but also makes obvious that some help is needed for next season in specific areas. Overall, the data points to Emery’s men being soft on defense–Villarreal is the 3rd worst team in terms of interceptions, with 51 per match. In that department, a creative player like Parejo, with 41 steals, is their top player, even though he is number 27 in the global La Liga standing for that stat. Next in line are Estupiñan and Pedraza, with 35 and 34 interceptions respectively, not even in the top 50 for the competition overall.

The lack of physicality in the team is obvious also in fouls committed. If a team is in the bottom spots when it comes to interceptions, you would expect that some fouls would make up for that lack of success in stealing the ball–but here again, Villarreal is the 3rd worse, with roughly 12 fouls per match. Here’s the formula:

Bottom three in interceptions + bottom three in committed fouls = a lot of chances for the opposition to try to score.

That should translate into goals conceded, but here is where the team excels–Villarreal is the 4th best team in La Liga when it comes to winning balls in the air. The Pau/Albiol partnership have a lot to do with this, and they both sit top of the standings in that department. Villarreal wins around 52 aerial challenges every match, and that means the team does not concede as many goals as they otherwise would, sitting 8th best, with 42 goals conceded. 

That points to a potential challenge this summer: if Albiol needs to take longer rest periods due to his age (35), and Pau leaves for the Premier League or a top team in Spain, Villarreal will likely suffer. The height (6′ 0′) of Aissa Mandi, experienced French centerback coming on a free from Betis this summer, should help with that. 

Mandi is also more exciting to watch when it comes to tackles, and often goes for a 90’s-style diving effort to clear the ball, something that Albiol and Pau don’t do that much. I believe the Frenchman should increase Villarreal’s numbers of both interceptions–and based on his defending style, probably fouls committed.

The team is also 16th in yellow cards, with less than two per match, which makes sense when you iterate the lack of commitment when it comes to taking the ball away from the opponent unless it is absolutely necessary. Instead the decision to sit tight, let the other team get close, and hope Pau and Albiol do their thing.

Moreno is key up front–even more than expected

When one looks at the Pichichi (La Liga top scorer) race, it makes sense to think that Gerard Moreno is the key man for Villarreal–but the dependency goes way beyond goals. The catalan striker, who this week tied for most goals in La Liga with the yellow shirt (equaling Diego Forlan and Giuseppe Rossi’s 54 goals in the competition) is either top or in the podium of the list in a few categories:

  • Goals scored: 21 (1st in the team, 2 in La Liga)
  • Shots on goal: 45 (1st in the team, 3rd in La Liga)
  • Assists: 5 (2nd in the team, 20th in La Liga)
  • Successful dribbles: 65 (1st in the team, 4th in La Liga)

The absolute need to rely on Moreno is exacerbated when one looks at the rest of the team’s performance: the next scorer in La Liga is Paco Alcacer, with six goals; the next shooter, the striker from Torrente again, with 20 attempts on goal.

Overall, Villarreal is 4th in shots on goal, only behind the top 3, attempting 4.3 shots per match–and almost 40% of those are Gerard Moreno’s. The club is also 4th in goals-per-shot-attempted, with 18% of attempts on goal ending as such, and Moreno is a huge asset in that category as well, with an insane 47% of shots on goal ending in one.

Gerard is an amazing player who will probably leave this summer or next. His stats are just amazing, and the player is getting to the point where his last big contract may happen now or never. We compared him to the mighty Lionel Messi for the sake of it, and a few things were surprising to see:

  • Gerard Moreno has scored 21 goals, and Messi, 29 of them.
  • However, Messi has played roughly five and a half matches more than Moreno, and adjusted to minutes per goal, the Villarreal striker scores every 116 minutes, and the Argentinean, every 101 minutes.
  • The most impactful insights comes in terms of total attempts to score/goals ratio. Gerard Moreno has to do more with the chances he has, and has managed to take a shot a total of 73 times this season. Lionel Messi has done it 135 times–almost double.

This means a statistic almost unreal–29% of Moreno’s total shots end in goal. Messi’s percentage is 21%. Benzema is at 23%, En-Nesyri at 28%, and Luis Suarez, at 25%. Gerard Moreno is the most efficient of La Liga’s top five strikers. 

Parejo is vital, and the wings, a great complement to Moreno

Not far on importance to the team is Dani Parejo, on top of the ladder in total passes (2,466 total number, 3rd in La Liga), total minutes (2,857, 22nd in La Liga), and dribbles (34 successful ones, Top 50 in La Liga). The midfielder is one of the main reasons Villarreal sits 4th in the competition in total passes, accounting for roughly 14% of the team’s total tally.

Special mentions go to both Moi Gomez and Samu Chukwueze, both in the top three for the team in goals (four each), shots on goal (11 each), and dribbles (the Nigerian is second with 39 successful ones).

Overall, the stats don’t lie: The Pau/Albiol partnership, Parejo in the midfield, and Moreno up top are the main reason Villarreal is where they are; but there is a need for more physicality especially in the midfield to keep the opposition at bay and concede even less. 

Moi and Chukwueze on the wings give the team the verticality it needs to get Moreno just enough chances to get close to goal. A strong back four does the rest.


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