Unai Emery’s pre-match bullishness before Villarreal travelled to Valencia on Friday night was quite noteworthy.
For a manager whose team’s winless run in La Liga read seven games, he seemed pretty assured when he addressed the remote media before the derby at the Mestalla.
“A derby is always a very special game. Games between Valencia and Villarreal have always been vibrant and exciting,” Emery asserted in Thursday’s press conference. “We’ve dropped down a couple of places. We want to recover, compete and fight to be in Europe.
“We have continued to work on dynamics where the team is comfortable. We have to improve on certain errors that we have committed. [On Friday], we will try and put it into practice. It is a game that excites all of us.”
Much of that positive disposition was a consequence of the Yellow Submarine’s performance in their 2-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid on Sunday night. Despite dominating Diego Simeone’s side at the Estadio de la Ceramica, Emery’s men somehow conceded two goals against the run of play.
The returning Samuel Chukwueze was one of Villarreal’s bright spots against Atleti on his first La Liga start since January. Strangely, the side didn’t secure maximum points in the top flight in the winger’s absence but he rewarded Emery’s choice to start him with a lively performance.
No player on the pitch fashioned out more shooting opportunities than the Nigerian’s four, who made the most of his dribbling ability on the night to find space. He completed a game-high four dribbles against the side from Madrid and his showing saw him rewarded as the Budweiser Man of the Match despite ending on the losing side.
The fact Chukwueze played the entire 90 minutes was a rarity in itself and it validated the quality performance of the West African against Los Colchoneros. It was only the second time the 21-year-old has stayed on the pitch for the whole game, having been withdrawn on five occasions after starting, but he made it three after Friday’s derby.