Unai Emery was drafted into Estadio de la Ceramica as Villarreal wanted to grow in stature in Europe. They wanted to improve on their 5th position in the league and wanted to challenge for trophies. Though their league objective wasn’t met Emery put up a masterclass in the Europa League to win it for the first time in Villarreal’s history.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 26, 2021
They are in the Champions League now and can back Emery with more funds and go big in all competitions. Let’s analyse Villarreal and go through their season in depth.
Javier Calleja was moved on from the managerial post to bring in a more experienced coach in Unai Emery. The Spaniard returned home after stints in France and England. The Yellow Submarine were on the receiving end of Valencia’s misery as they stole Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin. Few other signings like Pervis Estupinan were made which refreshed the team.
Villarreal began their league campaign by sharing points with newly-promoted Huesca. Emery registered his first win against Eibar with a 2-1 victory. He guided them to a record 19 game unbeaten run between September and December. Villarreal had hot and cold moments in the league as they failed to stitch victories together. Their inability to see out games saw them draw and drop points. A late surge saw them get to the 7th position in the league and seal the inaugural UEFA Conference league spots unless they went onto win the Europa League.
And yes… 𝙄𝙏 𝙒𝘼𝙎 𝙊𝙐𝙍 𝙏𝙄𝙈𝙀!!! 💛
This is for everyone who has been part of Villarreal history.
💛 𝗘𝗨𝗥𝗢𝗣𝗔 𝗟𝗘𝗔𝗚𝗨𝗘 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗠𝗣𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗦 💛 pic.twitter.com/1ouR7LdBJ9
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) May 26, 2021
The Europa League was already fondly called Unai Emery League due to doing the three-peat in the league with Sevilla. He was expected to have a similar run with Villarreal. They were unbeaten in the group stages and topped their Group-I with 5 wins and a draw. They had a safe passage to the semis as they negotiated Red Bull Salzburg, Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb respectively.
Emery came head to head with his previous employers in Arsenal at the semis. They won the first leg 2-1 in Spain and put a defensive masterclass in England as they progressed to their first-ever Europa League final. Villarreal held their nerve to beat Manchester United 11-10 on penalties as the gamed ended 1-1 after 120 minutes of dull action. Emery delivered their first-ever Europa League trophy.
Villarreal were beaten by a lesser Levante side in the quarters of the Copa del Rey. A goal in the injury time after 120 minutes broke their hearts.
La Liga – 7th position
UEFA Europa Legaue- Champions
Copa del Rey- quarter-finals
BEST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
VILLARREAL 1(11)-1 (10) MANCHESTER UNITED
The Yellow Submarines were bracing themselves for the biggest night of their lives in Gdansk. A first-ever European Final demanded them to be in the best shape possible. They banked heavily on their star striker Gerard Moreno to come good and Emery to work his tactics to perfection.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) June 1, 2021
The game was a dull affair and Moreno opened the scoring as expected at the 30-minute mark. They held onto end the first half with a lead. Edinson Cavani equalized shortly after the break as both sides resorted to sparring after that goal. The game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes and went to penalties. Both sides were so perfect as penalties as 10 shots were scored with neither side missing or saving.
The Argentinian custodian Geronimo Rulli made himself a hero as he converted an 11th spot-kick and saved his opposite number, David de Gea’s penalty. The Villarreal squad burst out in joy as they won the trophy for the first time.
Honorable Mentions: 2-1 win over Arsenal at home (Europa League), 4-0 away victory against Celta Vigo (La Liga)
WORST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
SEVILLA 2-0 VILLARREAL(LA LIGA)
Going into the game on the back of a 19 game unbeaten streak they were expected to win this match. Sevilla were a strong opposition and a win could’ve boosted their claim for European spots. Emery’s side failed to impress when presented with an actual challenge.
— Statspord (@statspord) December 29, 2020
They fell behind to a Lucas Ocampos strike early in the game. Though they had the majority of the ball they were lacking creativity in the midfield. They failed to break Sevilla’s determined defence. Desperate to find an equalizer they sent numbers up and were caught on the counter. Lucas Ocampos found Yen-Nesyri to score the second goal and seal the match. The Andalusian side managed to hold onto their lead and inflicted a first defeat on the visitors in three months.
Emery had to go back to the drawing board and rework his big game strategy afterward.
(dis)honorable mention: 4-0 defeat against Barcelona away(La Liga), 2-1 defeat to Valencia away (La Liga)
THE SEASON MVP
The 29-year-old striker came into this season on the back of a personal best outing last year. He was hoping he could replicate the same success. Unai Emery’s 4-4-2 system suited him perfectly as he got service from the flanks and wide areas perfectly. He’s a sound header of the ball and a predator in the box.
.@GerardMoreno9's 𝟮𝟬/𝟮𝟭 𝗦𝗘𝗔𝗦𝗢𝗡:
🎯 Joint-top scorer with 7️⃣ goals
👟 Joint-most assists: 5️⃣
🏆 #UEL winner
⚽ Zarra Trophy winner with 2️⃣3️⃣ goals
🔝 Villarreal assist provider with 7️⃣ pic.twitter.com/2uBkwZtpIp
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) June 2, 2021
All these factors helped him bag 23 goals in the league, which was five higher than his tally from the previous season. He also scored 7 goals in Europe including the crucial opener in the final. A grand total of 30 goals were hit. This form helped him get a call-up to the Spain national squad. He’s also going to the Euros as their main striker.
Honorable Mentions: Pau Torres, Samuel Chukwueze, Paco Alcacer
Brought from Valencia as part of their clearance sale, Coquelin failed to live up to his name. Coquelin who plays at the base of the midfield as a destroyer failed to replicate his success here. He was cut a lonely figure and the game just went past him.
Seguiremos luchando en Londres por la FINAL. RIGHT TO DREAM.
— Francis Coquelin (@FCoquelin_off) April 29, 2021
He wasn’t able to break up play and kickstart attacks. These very attributes made him shine at Arsenal a few years ago. His inconsistency which led to his downfall came back. He was just failing to have an impact on the game and was below par at best. Deservedly he lost his place to Etienne Capoue who offered much more in attack as well as defence.
(dis)honorable mentions: Ramiro Funes Mori, Alberto Moreno.
This Villarreal side is far from perfect and needs some improvement. With Champions League football secured through the Europa League win, Emery would be well backed in the transfer window. He’d be looking to implement his philosophy in a better way and aim for a higher finish in the league as well as a deeper run in the Champions League.