Written by Oluwaseun Oyediji
Spanish and Italian representatives will square up in the first leg of the 2021/2022 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday at the Estadio de la Ceramica, Villareal.
Villareal approaches their first UEFA Champions League (UCL) knockout tie since the 2008/2009 season with confidence, after winning half of their group stage fixtures (three wins a draw, and two defeats).
Yet, with both defeats coming against another side (Manchester United) that boasts a better UEFA coefficient than themselves, they will be wary of expecting too much against two-time European Champions, Juventus.
Style of play
Villareal’s coach, Unai Emery has long most commonly favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation, though there have also been occasions he has preferred a 4-4-2. With both systems, his team’s ability to attack is led by their central midfielders, and the double pivot so often used.
Villarreal has more consistently been organised into a 4-4-2, in addition to Emery’s long-favoured 4-2-3-1. With either system, they attack with numerous players in a narrow shape, and their front two – two of Giovani Lo Celsio, Arnaut Danjuma, and Alberto Moreno – work to occupy their opposing central defenders, often encouraging counters via a striker withdrawing into a deeper position and the closest wide player providing a forward run and in behind, to preserve their front two.
If a more sustained period of possession is unfolding, Villarreal’s full-backs advance, and their wide midfielders move infield to support either their two central midfielders or front two.
A 0-0 draw against LaLiga leaders Real Madrid in Villareal’s last home game may provide something of a psychological boost for last season’s UEFA Europa League winners, with that draw making it six home games without sinking for the Yellow Submarine (four wins and two draws).
Similarly, three of their four UCL home wins since last beating Italian opposition at the Estadio de la Ceramica (1-0 against Inter Milan back in April 2006) have been accompanied by a clean sheet.
Players To Watch
High on confidence after a weekend hat-trick against Granada, Arnaut Danjuma netted in both halves during Villareal’s Group F Matchday six win over Atalanta.
Juventus find themselves in the UCL knockouts for an eighth straight season and will aim to make the final for the third time within that period.
Like a true Italian side, they were mostly well-composed at the back during the group stage (five wins and a defeat), registering four clean sheets and winning the possession stakes in both away victories.
Style of play
Allegri has been praised for his tactical intelligence and his ability to build effectively upon Antonio Conte’s successful tactics and winning mentality as Juventus’s manager, albeit in a less rigorous manner.
He initially continued to use Conte’s trademark 3–5–2 formation, but later switched to a four-man back-line, in particular in the UEFA Champions League.
Under Allegri, Juventus became slightly less aggressive and intense in their pressing off the ball while their playing style became more patient and focused on keeping possession and gaining territorial advantage to conserve energy, tactics which he had previously used while at Milan.
Their Serie A away form since mid-November also reads well (four wins and three draws), with three 2-0 wins – each seeing both halves won – within that streak.
They have also recorded three victories across their last five trips to Spain, though there is also a warning for the Biaconeri, as the Italian giants have lost their last three Round of 16 away legs.
Players To Watch
Weston McKennie scored Juventus’ only open-play goal during their last away clash against Spanish opposition (3-0 win against FC Barcelona in December 2020).
Villareal has won three of its last five matches, losing to Elche (1-0), and playing out a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid.
Juventus has won just two of its last five games against Sassuolo and Verona at home.
The team has drawn the other three games with AC Milan, Atalanta, and Torino.
Villareal defeated Juventus 1-4 the last time both sides met in a friendly match in 2009.
Villareal 1-1 Juventus
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I am a huge advocate of Women’s football after covering the Nigeria Women Football Leagues (NWFL) since 2019 which earned me the award as the Journalist of the Season. An unbiased football writer with penchant for women’s in sports and historical analysis.