The rise of Samuel Chukwueze continues: The Nigerian dazzles as Villarreal CF close in on fourth place

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Samuel Chukwueze
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The 23-year-old is having an excellent season, having scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists across all competitions.

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After finishing as a finalist for LaLiga Santander’s March Player of the Month award, Villarreal CF forward, Samuel Chukwueze kept up his brilliant run of form in his first game of April, leading his side towards a 2-0 victory over Real Sociedad.

This was one of the rare Villarreal CF victories in which the Nigerian didn’t register a goal or assist, but he was still absolutely decisive by winning the penalty that allowed Dani Parejo to open the scoring. After receiving the ball in the centre of the pitch, Chukwueze first had to dodge the referee, before dribbling past two Real Sociedad defenders and then suffering a foul as he moved past the third.

Fans of Villarreal CF have been enjoying these kinds of mazy dribbles from Chukwueze all season long, as he has been completing 3.05 successful take-ons per 90 minutes this LaLiga Santander campaign. That’s the second-most for all players with more than 1,000 minutes played, only behind Vinícius Júnior, with the Real Madrid man averaging 3.22.

Not only can he bring the ball forward and break lines, but Chukwueze is proving to be decisive in the final third too. He is enjoying his best ever season for direct goal contributions as he has 11 goals and 11 assists so far across all competitions, with four of those goals and five of those assists coming in LaLiga Santander. Prior to 2022/23, Chukwueze’s highest tally for direct goal contributions was 13 in 2020/21, when he scored five and assisted eight.

Chukwueze is a difference-maker in Quique Setién’s attack

Interestingly, Chukwueze has reached the next level under the new Villarreal CF coach, Quique Setién. Nine of his goals and seven of his assists have come in the 23 games under the current boss, compared to two goals and four assists in the 16 appearances he made this season under Unai Emery.

Setién’s Villarreal CF like to dominate possession and control the ball, but they need line-breakers like Chukwueze to make this count on the scoreboard. It is a perfect combination and every Villarreal CF player knows to look for the Nigerian whenever there’s a need to accelerate the play.

The coach doesn’t want to take the credit for the explosion in Chukwueze’s stats, though. After the Real Sociedad win, Setién stated: “He was already a great player before I arrived. It’s true that sometimes a certain context or run in the side will help, but I already saw him do extraordinary things before I arrived. He has maintained a great level of performance and I hope he keeps it up because, on days like today, he’s decisive.”

A mix of energy, promise and experience

Chukwueze is showing no signs of slowing down and, as his 24th birthday approaches in May, he is at the perfect age where he boasts a combination of youthful energy, exciting promise and also maturity from his several years of experience.

Despite still being so young, the forward has already played 196 matches at the senior level, all for Villarreal CF. That includes 144 appearances in LaLiga Santander, with his first coming back in 2018, a year after he moved to Spain from the Diamond Football Academy.

Chukwueze arrived at El Submarino Amarillo as a top prospect, having helped Nigeria win the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup and having collected the Bronze Ball as he did so. He has been a top player and fan favourite for some time now, especially after his contributions to Villarreal CF’s 2020/21 Europa League triumph and his winning goal in last season’s Champions League win against Bayern Munich.

With his performances this season, he has pulled his team to within four points of the Champions League qualification spots, as they look to return to Europe’s top competition. Chukwueze has reached the next level, and his rise continues. 

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