Villarreal manager Unai Emery must have a secret recipe for beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The German juggernaut’s last away loss in European competition came in 2017, when Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain walloped Bayern 3–0 in the group stage. While the score-line of Wednesday’s Villarreal-Bayern match was “merely” a massive 1–0 win for the Spanish hosts, the same principle applied: an Emery-coached side had the better of the unstoppable Bayern machine, and should have frankly won by a score closer to that 3–0 win than the one-goal squeaker it got in the end.
The fireworks for Villarreal started early and never really let up. In just the eighth minute, the Yellow Submarine built an attack through Giovani Lo Celso—who was excellent on Wednesday—before the former Spurs man hit a low cross to Dani Parejo in the center of the box. Parejo’s shot looked like it might hit the bottom corner past Manuel Neuer, but instead, teammate Arnaut Danjuma deflected the ball in to the other side, giving the hosts the early lead:
Rather than hunkering down to protect its lead, Villarreal kept on coming. In spite of Bayern’s 62 percent possession, Villarreal was consistently dangerous on counter-attacks and had most of the great scoring opportunities, while Bayern had to settle for half-chances. The Villarreal backline was immense in making those chances not look particularly dangerous. Pau Torres especially had a couple of goal-saving challenges and was the key man in maintaining the advantage for the hosts.
The best Villarreal chance came in the 41nd minute, when former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin lobbed what looked like a cross directly into the goal, giving his side a 2–0 lead …
… that lasted only a few moments, as VAR ruled him to be just offside before the cross-shot. That sequence foreshadowed what was to come for the rest of the second half, as Villarreal repeatedly came close to scoring but ultimately failed to double its lead in front of the rabid home crowd. The stats tell the story: Villarreal had 12 shots, a handful of those from good and dangerous positions, but only the Danjuma deflection went on target. The side might rue those misses and the disallowed goal especially; it’s a lot easier to defend a two-goal lead away from home than a solitary tally.
Still, though, the result gave Villarreal a deserved lead against one of the best sides in the tournament. It’s clear that Emery set his team up to strike on the counter, but Villarreal has enough talent in midfield and attack to not exactly turtle up. More than that, the side defended in an organized manner when it had to, opened up play when it could, and forced Bayern into uncharacteristic mistakes. It’s important to note here that Robert Lewandowski, the architect of so many Bayern routs, is a bit hobbled after picking up a little knee injury during the international break, and might be at full strength next time around. That’s a scary proposition for any side to deal with, even one as well-drilled as Emery’s team.
Villarreal would be wise to look at what happened last round as it heads to Munich for the second leg. RB Salzburg didn’t dominate Bayern in the first leg, but it did play to a draw at home, only giving up its own 1–0 lead in the final minutes. In the return leg, though, all hell broke loose, and Bayern ruthlessly punished Salzburg’s mistakes en route to a 7–1 victory. Villarreal is more structured and talented at the back, and if Torres plays like he did on Wednesday, it’ll be hard for Bayern to steamroll quite like that. That’s the thing about the German champions, though: hard is still doable, and Villarreal will have to play just as well as it did in the first leg to advance to an unlikely semifinal berth.