Napoli have the first match of a crucial tie on Thursday, facing Villarreal in Spain for their Europa League round of 32 clash. Spirits are a bit low among Napoli fans after last weekend's crushing loss, but there's plenty of reason to be optimistic heading into this match. Still, Villarreal will be a tough opponent, so we reached out to Allen Dodson, managing editor of fellow SB Nation blog Villarreal USA to give us a scouting report, and he was kind enough to do just that. The following is his report, and we thank him very much for helping us out.
Villarreal scouting report
Any of you remember Villarreal from 2010 and 2011? Well, this Yellow Submarine is much different. The Yellow Submarine has been described as "the most Italian team in Spain", which I doubt, but it's certainly true that this team is more defensive-minded than its predecessors.
Villarreal play a 4-4-2, characterized (at its best) by a high tempo of play, lots of movement off the ball, and an intense desire to win the ball back in the attacking half of the pitch.
Bruno Soriano -- the Submarine captain plays in the center of our midfield in the "double pivot", is a key player when it comes to breaking up opposition attacks before they get started, as well as a free-kick specialist.
Villarreal's defense has been anchored by Mateo Musacchio and Victor Ruiz-- our likely center back pairing, these two have forged an excellent partnership. And Mario Gaspar has been excellent this year at right back. Alphonse Areola, goalkeeper on loan from PSG, commands his area very well and is an excellent shot-stopper. He's very mobile and loves to come out and punch high balls away, when many keepers tend to wait for their defense to act.
Villarreal's attack has been the problem this season. It's been tough for us to create chances--we have fewer shots per game than pretty much any other successful team in Europe. Leo Baptistao, Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado might all see action up front during this match, while Denis Suárez provides quickness down the left; Jonathan dos Santos is more of a defensive midfielder on the right side but provides width on the right.
Villarreal would really prefer to play a counterattacking game, using the speed of Suarez and Bakambu, Roberto Soldado's combativeness, and Bruno's ball-winning skills to create chances. On the road, that's usually how it works out. At El Madrigal, teams in La Liga often sit back and let Villarreal have most of the possession, and in that case players like Manu Trigueros and Leo Baptistao become important, using their control in tight spaces to set up play.
Villarreal's front two are very mobile, and work hard at both ends. If we can win possession back quickly in the middle third of the pitch, we can create opportunities to attack quickly. However, we don't have any one player who is a tremendous passer of the ball, nor do we have that one super-speedy player who can unlock a defense on his own. For us it's all about creating half-chances through individual skill and hard work, and taking advantage of those opportunities when they come.
Defensively, we defend in two bands of four; we like our back line to play fairly high, focusing play into the middle of the pitch, and while our fullbacks do like to go forward, they pay attention to their defensive duties far more than Barcelona's for example.
Unless Marcelino decides to make some rotations, expect to see our standard XI: Areola; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz, Jaume Costa; Jonathan dos Santos, Bruno Soriano, Manu Trigueros, Denis Suarez; Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu.
The big questions are which two from Baptistao/Soldado/Bakambu start, and what goalkeeper starts for us. Areola has been our #1, but Mariano Barbosa has played in our other Europa League matches. Who we play there might indicate how seriously we are taking this--if it's Areola, then we're definitely gunning for it. Starting one of the other two wouldn't make sense to me if we want our best XI out there--they are both good, but rusty.
We are without centerback Eric Bailly (shoulder injury) and midfielder/secondary striker Samu Garcia (foot injury). Tomas Pina could see action--he's a more defensive midfielder than Trigueros; Samu Castillejo is a jinking winger who can play instead of dos Santos, and Adrian Marin is a young left back who is a future star. Bruno Soriano is also dealing with a case of the flu, and isn't a lock to be available. That would be a huge blow to Villarreal if he can't go.
How does Villarreal match up with Napoli?
Though Napoli have to be the favorites, Villarreal have played well against La Liga's best, including a 1-0 win over Real Madrid and a 1-0 win over Atleti at El Madrigal.
Keys for Villareal to do well
- Our spine--Areola or whomever in goal, Ruiz, Musacchio, Bruno, Soldado--has to stay mentally strong, avoid unforced errors or dangerous fouls.
- Control midfield enough so Napoli's goal scorers don't get many chances
- Take advantage of what opportunities we get to score ourselves. We'll be happy to see Pepe Reina back at El Madrigal, but we'll also feel we can score on him.
One of the exciting things about this tie is that it gives Villarreal a chance to test itself against a Champions League-quality club. If we can hold Napoli off the scoresheet in El Madrigal--even if we don't score ourselves-- we won't be out of it. But if Napoli score, it'll be hard for us to score twice here and take a lead to Naples, and I don't see us winning the away leg.