Real Madrid Femenino have scored four goals in their previous two matches against Eibar and UD Granadilla Tenerife. But three of those four goals came from the penalty spot. The other goal came in transition when the team was ahead.
In both of these matches, the opposition was well set up defensively. Real Madrid have the quality to be able to dictate the flow of the game and force their will on matches but we just haven’t seen this yet from David Aznar’s side.
Part of this issue stems from Real Madrid’s lack of variability in attack. Great teams can hurt you from anywhere on the pitch. They do not rely on one specific pattern of play to create all of their open play chances. Even if they have one dominant method, they are able to mix up the attack enough to disorganize defenses and keep them guessing.
In the past two games, Real Madrid have almost exclusively relied on two patterns:
1. Feeding Kosovare Asllani in Space
When play restarts or Las Blancas win the ball back, they look to bypass midfield and play the ball quickly to Asllani.
Asllani almost always tries to wriggle out of pressure and does not want to play the ball back to a midfielder. She tries to sprint at the defense with wingers like Sofia Jakobsson, Marta Cardona, and Chioma Ubogagu barreling toward goal. As the match vs. Granadilla showed, the three attackers almost never check their runs, so Asllani has no support in the middle of the pitch and can only play a telegraphed through ball to one of the three runners.
This is not a bad option. We have the quality going forward to make this a lethal counter-attack but a lot needs to go right in these situations. First, Asllani needs to be able to run into space. Granadilla tried to limit this by having a player track Asllani all over the pitch and pressure her when she receives with her back to the ball. This results in turnovers and Asllani flicking a long pass to no one in particular.
Real Madrid also needs numbers when going forward. Too often, Asllani got the ball and charged at the defense with only one other attacker running with her. It was easy for Granadilla to deal with the two attackers because they had numbers behind the ball.
2. Win the Ball and Go Wide
This manifested when Thaisa, Teresa, or another player won a ball in midfield and passed to a wide player. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when they pass to the right side of the pitch and stay there. It becomes a one-sided attack that is very predictable and easy to defend.
When on the wings, Las Blancas rely solely on individual skill and do not work as a team. This can especially be seen when Real Madrid get the ball in the final third and the play slows down a bit. There does not seem to be a plan in place to break down a defense packed into their own final third, meaning that Madrid resort to dribbling by multiple players.
Against Granadilla, we barely even saw overlapping or underlapping runs from the full backs or wingers without the ball. They stood about ten yards apart and were static. It happened on both sides of the pitch on multiple occasions. Even if a player is able to beat a few opponents on the dribble their only option is to cross, making a nominally unpredictable strategy predictable. The defense is prepared for a cross and we don’t have numbers in the box — they do. All of our numbers are stationed on the wings.
It is not necessarily bad to use these attacking patterns, but Real Madrid have struggled because these are the only options they rely on. In yesterday’s match, Teresa was the sole player on the pitch who looked to slow things down and possess the ball in midfield. Granadilla did well to make this difficult for Real Madrid. Teresa was often in good positions to receive the pass and switch the point of attack but she was ignored for a forced forward ball that resulted in a turnover.
Real Madrid Already Have the Tools to Diversify
There were moments when Real Madrid looked good in possession, which was when the team created their best opportunities. In the 14th minute, Las Blancas’ build-up led to a Cardona shot. Ivana Andrés passed to Kenti Robles and Robles returned it to Ivana. Teresa showed in the midfield and received it. She played a vertical pass to Asllani, who flicked it to Cardona. Cardona dribbled through the defense and fired off a shot.
Two minutes later, Marta Corredera took a throw-in that started another good move. Thaisa, Corredera, and Ubogagu all touched the ball before Corredera found Asllani with a line-breaking pass. Asllani linked-up with Cardona and Robles and it looked like Robles was through the defense, but was called back for offside.
There was one more moment like this in the first half. At 35:02 Real Madrid started an attack on the left side of the pitch. They worked their way to the right before Jakobsson was tackled off the ball. Real Madrid won it back quickly and was good in possession again. Ivana passed to Teresa and Teresa moved it to the left side. The ball circulated down the left before Corredera passed to Ivana. Ivana took the space the defense provided her, drawing defenders. This opened up space for Teresa to make an attacking run that was rewarded. She chipped the ball into Asllani’s path and the Swede’s shot fired off the post.
At the start of the second half, this momentum continued. Eventually, Aznar’s choice to bring Kaci on for Ubogagu solidified the midfield. During the positive spells at the end of the first half and with the switch to the 4-3-3, Las Blancas dropped Thaisa deeper. The move gave her more space and time on the ball. Teresa moved up the pitch which really helped the team offensively. She was the best equipped midfielder to be up the pitch because she is better in tight situations, retains possession well, and has a killer final pass.
Teresa was bossing the match in the second half before Granadilla began making changes. Ultimately, she and Cardona were responsible for creating the only Real Madrid goal on the day. Again, it came from meaningful possession. Teresa won the ball back and passed to Thaisa, who distributed to Ivana. Teresa dropped to show as an outlet, received the ball, and played a quick one-two, allowing her to sprint into space with the ball. Her run drew multiple defenders, which left Cardona wide open in space on the left. Teresa passed her the ball and Cardona left a player for dead before crossing into a defender’s elbow. This allowed Asllani to convert the penalty.
In response, Granadilla made a multitude of substitutions and formation changes that flipped the match on its head and limited Real Madrid to only playing down the left to Cardona.
Despite the aforementioned sequences, Real Madrid have relied too heavily on two patterns of play, rendering them predictable and easier to defend. The players need to be more willing to retain possession and slow proceedings down if the counter-attack is not on. Las Blancas have looked their best and most dominant when either Teresa or Maite Oroz have dictated the tempo and orchestrated possession. That is the key to having a diversified attack that can hit the opposition down the middle or from either side.
If they establish a style of play that allows them to shift the opposition defensive structure, they will be better able to find weaknesses in the opposition’s organization and make them pay. This style will also make our dominant attacking patterns less predictable and more difficult to defend when transition opportunities do arise.