By Ravi Ramineni (@analyseFooty), lead contributor to onfooty.com
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
- Identify the possible causes for the decline in
- Divided the final third into 6 zones based on histogram of
- Visualize and compare the passing in the final third of
the pitch in 2011 & 2010 seasons, by zone, position and
- 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
Figure - 1:Passing summary in the final third 2010-11 vs.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
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
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
Figure - 6: Santi Cazorla's 2010 passing in the final
- 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%)
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
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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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.
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
Villarreal played in a single striker formation in 25 of the 38
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.
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
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
- Data indicates that the absence of Santi Cazorla and Giuseppe
Rossi contributed to the weakness of Villarreal through the
- 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
- 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