Unai Emery sets Villarreal up in a 1-4-4-2 formation, but not with the task of keeping or possessing the ball, but only to overload and dominate the center, which they like to attack with by entering from deep vertically into the penalty area.
Villarreal’s wide zone play is provided not so much by the wingers, who have more of a task in center, but by the wing-backs and one of the forwards, who runs into the wide channels. Occasionally one of the central midfielders (Capoue) also runs into the wider areas while the other (Parejo) is the centre of playmaking in midfield. This flexibility makes Villarreal’s play difficult to predict and allows individual players to rotate positions making it difficult for rivals to maintain a defensive structure. The two strikers provide width but also threaten space in the front of the box, while the two attacking midfielders make penetrating runs into the penalty.
The key to Villarreal’s success, however, is to overload the center. They are able to deploy a midfield diamond for this purpose with Giovani Lo Celso and Francis Coquelin in front of Parejo and Capoue. By playing the ball out from the back they force the opponent to press aggressively and high with the opponent’s central defenders unable to come out high as Villarreal’s two mobile strikers engage them away from the line of play. This allows Villarreal to play easy passes between the lines. This generally gives Villarreal’s defenders more space to get forward.
When the rival opposes Villarreal by compacting the center they often change their formation to a 1-4-3-3 with Parejo in the pivot role, the wingers positioned wide and Capoue moved more to the right side of the pitch. The strikers (Moreno and Dia) then occupy more central positions allowing the wingers to join in attacks from the left or right. In this variant we often see a rotation of positions between the wingers and the central midfielders, which creates space for the wingers to run forward with the ball through the central channel. They then usually attack in a 4-2 or 3-3 formation.
In defense Villarreal use agressive hard pressing very close to their rivals in the hope of preventing action early on. Oftenly they carry on pressing by clenching the rival at full pace, resulting with increased numer of fouls. This strategy disrupts the tempo of the opponent’s play and despite the obvious risks produces measurable profits.