With Lyon sitting in 4th in the Ligue 1 table and Villarreal poised 5th in La Liga this was always going to be a closely fought and intriguing battle. Lyon opted for their usual 4-2-3-1 with the front 4 of Mariano Diaz, Houssem Aouar, Bertrand Traore and Nabil Fekir giving a dazzling array of talent for the Villareal defence to try to deal with. Villarreal also stuck with their usual formation that’s paid off for them this season, lining up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Denis Cheryshev replacing Cedric Bakambu after his move to China.
Playing Through The Lines
With Villarreal having an extra player in the middle of the park and Lyon having the advantage of wide players, both teams were always going to be able to break through each others lines with relative ease which is precisely what happened, time and time again both teams were able to bypass each others pressing (or lack of when they dropped into a low-block) with relative ease which made for a fantastic game that went from end to end.
We can see in the above clip Villarreal countering after a Lyon chance, using the extra man in the middle of the park to help switch the attack to the other side of the pitch. The lack of width combined with Lyon quickly dropping back to form a low block caused this particular attack to die out, but at times Villarreal were happy to let Lyon form this low block and to play the ball around in midfield, probing for an opportunity to play the ball into one of the forwards as seen below.
It wasn’t just Villarreal that were causing problems though, when in possession Lyon were equally happy to play the same game, using the extra man on the flanks to cause overloads – stretching the Villarreal midfield. A key part of Lyons game-plan was sucking the Villarreal midfield into coming out wide, before switching the ball to the other flank and hoping the full-back and winger could capitalise against the full-back before the team could shuffle across, as demonstrated below.
The Mariano Diaz Show
The Lyon forward was undoubtedly my man of the match, he was a constant problem for the Villarreal defence. He completed the match with not only 2 assists but the highest amount of shots (6 with 4 on target), the highest dribble success ratio (5 dribbles completed out of 5 attempted) and the most aerial duels won (3).
His pace and dribbling ability caused the Villarreal defence all sorts of problems that could have potentially reduced Villarreal down to 10 men early on as Diaz was pulled back – he got back on his feet and almost beat Asenjo to score early on. Plenty of players would have gone for the red card and foul, but it was obvious that he had the desire to get up and test his ability against Asenjo
Diaz was involved in 2 of Lyons 3 goals, the first of which was a fine header (which I think was probably a shot rather than him trying to provide the assist).
The second was a fantastic demonstration of his pace as he races with the ball against Álvaro González from the halfway line into the Villarreal box, before dummying a shot to fool González into committing himself before taking a real shot himself. With Fekir in plenty of space though taking the shot was probably a bit on the greedy side, but Fekir managed to get on the end of the rebound and blast the ball home. Either way, Lyon look to have got themselves a fantastic player for a bargain price (rumoured to be around €8m).
Lyon ran out winners, with the scoreline of 3-1 flattering them a bit as it was an entertaining but pretty evenly matched game. This leaves Villarreal with a lot to do in the next leg and it’ll be interesting to see how they approach it. The narrow formation they took naturally leaves the full-backs isolated – which is not something you want when up against Aouar and Traore – a switch to a 4-3-3 or matching Lyons 4-2-3-1 should give them a much better chance of getting a result in the home tie, but I feel the damage may have already been done.