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GUEST BLOG: Villarreal 2011-12 - Breaking down a failed season

By Ravi Ramineni (@analyseFooty), lead contributor to

Villarreal had a disastrous 2011-12, ending in an agonizing relegation to the 2nddivision in the dying minutes of the season. In 2010-11 Villarreal reached the semifinals of the Europa League and finished 4th in La Liga to qualify for the Champions League. I focus on the performance of Villarreal in the attacking third of the pitch in 2011 and compare it with that of 2010.


- Compare performance in the attacking third in 2011-12 and 2010-11.

- Identify the possible causes for the decline in performance.


- Divided the final third into 6 zones based on histogram of passes.


- Visualize and compare the passing in the final third of the pitch in 2011 & 2010 seasons, by zone, position and individual players.


- In-game event data of all La Liga games of Villarreal in seasons 2010 and 2011 from OptaPro

Tools & techniques

- Hexagonal binning using R.

- Tableau Public


- Excluded the short passes of the short-corners near the corner flag area to get a granular picture of passing in all of the final third.


Figure - 1:Passing summary in the final third 2010-11 vs. 2011-12


The above diagram visualizes Villarreal's passing in the final third in 2010 & 2011 seasons.

- The size of the circle is based on the # of pass attempts made in that zone.

- The number in the middle of the circle is the # of pass attempts made in that zone.

- The color gradient is based on pass completion % in that zone.


- Passing completion % in the final third went down from 72.6% in 2010 to 69.6% in 2011.

- The pass completion % is significantly down in all the zones of the final third (except Z1).

- The penalty box(18y-box), the left wing (Z5) and the central zone (Z2) have seen the biggest drop in passing completion % (8.1%,  5.6% and 5.1% respectively)

- 21% - Drop in passes attempted in the central zone Z2.

- 7% - decline in pass completion in the central zone Z2.

- 22% - increase in the passes attempted in Z1.

Figure - 2:Hexbin of all completed passes in the final third of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.


Darker cells indicate more completed passes represented by the area of the cell. "Counts" legend gives the # of completed passes represented by each shade in the gradient.


- Villarreal attack appears more balanced in 2010 than in 2011.
- There is a huge 21% drop in # of passes attempted in the central zone Z2.

- The hypothesis is a combination of the following:

- Lack of penetration through the middle forcing the midfield players to pass it sideways early in the attack.

- No good alternate options to fill the gaps left by Cazorla (sold to Malaga) and Rossi (out injured for 4/5ths of the season).

Figure - 3:2010 vs. 2011 difference plot


How to read an erosion difference plot?

- In the erosion difference plotThe green cells indicate areas with similar amounts of passes in 2010 & 2011.

- The red cells indicate areas where there were more passes in 2010 but not in 2011.

 - The cyan cells indicate areas where there were more passes in 2011 but not in 2010.

 - The white cells indicate the median position of passes. The arrow indicates the shift of the median from 2010 season to 2011 season.


- The red cells in the middle indicate the decline in completed passes through the middle in 2011.

- The cyan cells on the right and left indicates an increase in completed passes on the wings.

The rest of the post breaks down these numbers by positions and players.


I compared the top 4 starters in the midfield (by minutes played) in 2010 to 2011.

2010- Borja Valero, Bruno Soriano, Santi Cazorla and Cani

2011- Borja Valero, Bruno Soriano, Marcos Senna and Cani

Figure - 4:2010 vs. 2011 Midfield



- Villarreal midfielders had trouble completing passes in the central zone Z2 in 2011.

- It seems like the midfielders were forced to pass sideways early in the attacks to Z1 & Z3.

Figure - 5:Difference Erosion plot - Midfield



- This plot reinforces what we saw in Figure - 4. Red cells =Passing through the middle suffered.

- The overall median of completed passes shifted from left to right as indicated by the arrow.

Now let us distill into the data of the players that make up the midfield.

Santi Cazorla

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Figure - 6: Santi Cazorla's 2010 passing in the final third.



- The two-footed Cazorla had a strong influence in the center (Z2) in 2010.

- His absence on the field was felt in 2011. Villarreal's passing through the middle suffered in quantity (down by 21%) and completion % (down by 7%)

Borja Valero

Figure - 7:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Borja Valero



- Borja Valero's passing was more balanced across Z1, Z2 & Z3 in 2010 compared to 2011.

- In 2011 Borja Valero's has been more active on in Z1 & Z3 and less active in the central Z2.This indicates a lack of penetration through the middle. Opponents seem to have forced to Borja to pass to the right or left as soon as he got the ball in the final third.

- Borja might not have found outlets early enough to pass the ball through the center and was probably forced to pass it sideways to keep the possession.

Figure - 8:Difference erosion plot - Borja Valero



- The plot highlights earlier findings about increased passing in 2011 in on the right & left (Z1 & Z3) and decreased passing in Z2 compared to 2010.

- The plot shows that median of Borja passes have shifted to the right.


Bruno Soriano

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Figure - 9:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Bruno Soriano



- Bruno's zone of influence seems be the left midfield

- He had more influence in the final third in 2011 compared to 2010.

- Bruno has been a lot more adventurous in 2011. The # of hexagons in and around the 18y-box is higher in 2011 than 2010. Bruno scored his first career goal of La Liga and 3 goals in total during the 2011 season.

Marcos Senna

Figure - 10:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Marcos Senna



- Marcos Senna's was injured a lot in 2010 and didn't play much.

- As a right central midfielder in a double-pivot, his influence is on the center-right side of the pitch.

- Along with Bruno he has been the bedrock of this shaky and inconsistent Villarreal side


Figure - 11:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Cani



- The plot shows Cani's influence is predominantly on the left side.

- His passing through the middle Z2 and the right zone Z3 seems to have suffered in 2011.

- Dribbling and running at the opposition defenders is a key aspect of Cani's game. To that effect his interventions near the 18y-box seem to have reduced in 2011.

Figure - 12: Cani difference Erosion plot


- Median of Cani's completed passes has moved slightly left and backwards (away from the opponents goal)

- The red cells closer to 18y-box imply that his influence in the vicinity of the 18y-box has decreased in 2011.This points to lack of creativity and penetration through the middle.

- Cani is probably forced to dribble from wide positions too early in the attack, making it easier for defenders to defend him.


2010 -Nilmar, Rossi, Ruben

2011 -Ruben, Nilmar, Martinuccio, Joselu, Rossi

Figure - 13:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Forwards



- More completed passes by forwards in the final third in 2010 vs. 2011, especially through the middle.
- Villarreal forwards didn't get much service through the middle in 2011

Figure - 14:Forwards - Difference erosion plot



- The median of completed passes for forwards shifted backwards (away from the opponents goal) by about 5 meters.

- This is could be a pointer to something deeper like lack of penetration or creativity in the final third, forcing the forward to come deeper to receive the ball. 

Giuseppe Rossi

Figure 15 - Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Giuseppe Rossi



- Rossi plays across all zones in the final third and especially strong in the central zone Z2.

- In 2011 Rossi suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury in week 8 of La Liga.

- Rossi's absence has been felt in central zone of the final third in 2011. Villarreal's passing through the middle suffered in quantity (down by 21%) and completion % (down by 7%).

Figure - 16:Rossi Difference erosion plot



The eroded difference plot gives an idea into shifts in positioning of Rossi from 2010 to 2011. Please note that we are comparing a relatively smaller dataset of 2011 (8 games) to 35 games in 2010.

- The median of Rossi's passes has moved about 5 meters backwards (away from the opposition goal.
- This is a pointer to something deeper like lack of penetration or creativity in the final third, forcing Rossi to come deeper to receive the ball. 


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Figure - 17:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Nilmar



- Nilmar missed a lot 2011 season through injury or through coach's decision not to play him due to the rumors around his transfer in January.

- When he played, he wasn't effective.

- The few # of completed passes in 2011 could be due toLack of service
Villarreal played in a single striker formation in 25 of the 38 games

Figure - 18: Nilmar difference and erosion plot



- Nilmar's median of passing shifted backwards (away from the opponents goal) and towards the center.

- This indicates lack of supply to Nilmar in advanced positions forcing the forward to come deeper to receive service.

Marco Ruben

Figure - 19:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Marco Ruben



- Ruben wasn't a regular starter in 2010. This explains partly, the bigger influence of Ruben in 2011 compared to 2010.

- Villarreal played with a lone striker in 2011 a lot more times (25 of 38 games) than in 2010.

- The dark hexagons in Z3 (right) Z2 (middle) could be areas where he came deep to receive the long passes.

Figure - 20:Ruben difference and erosion plot



- The erosion difference plot shows that the median of Ruben's passes moved about 7-8 meters deeper (away from the opponent's goal) and shifted to the right from a more central positionThis implies Ruben had to come deeper to receive the ball.

- Moving away from the center also implies lack of service when Ruben was in advanced positions.


Figure - 21:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Right backs



- More attacking from the right wing back position in 2011 compared to 2010, especially in Zone 3.

Figure - 22:Completed passes in the final third.2010 vs. 2011 - Left backs



- The plot shows more attacking from the left back position in 2011 than 2010.

- Joan Oriol featured a lot at LB in 2011 who tends to go forward often.

Summary of Findings

- Final third passing data indicates that Villarreal's attacking in the final third shifted from the center to right and left wings in 2011.

- Data indicates that the absence of Santi Cazorla and Giuseppe Rossi contributed to the weakness of Villarreal through the middle.

- Borja Valero's overall influence increased in 2011. However his passing through the middle has declined in 2011 while his passing increased on right and left wings.

- This is probably due to Villarreal's attacks being pushed out wide early (and quite far away from the 18y-box) reducing their effectiveness.

- The median of passing for Rossi, Cani, Marco Ruben and Nilmar has moved backwards (away from the opponent's goal)This could be a sign of forwards being starved of service forcing them to come deeper to get the back.

- The passing median also shifted right or left for all midfielders and forwards further reinforcing the premise of lack of penetration through the middle. 

- Lack of penetration through the middle could also be due to slow build-up of attacks because of the lack of outlets upfront.The team missed Rossi's runs off the ball to create space to receive the through ball.

- Villarreal also used 1-striker formations a lot of times in 2011 (25 out of 38 games) as opposed to their more common 4-4-2 formation due to a variety of personnel issues as well as tactical (3 different coaches in one season).

All photographs ©ActionImages

Posted by Ravi Ramineni at 13:20


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