Levante-Real Madrid was postponed and rescheduled for midweek due to COVID-19 complications on Levante’s end, leaving the Granotas several matchdays behind their rivals. Nevertheless, they held sixth position, reflecting the collective quality and organization that took them to third place last season. In this massive test, David Aznar went for a 4-3-3 with a bit of grit, playing Kaci and Thaisa above the pivot Maite Oroz, leaving the more technical Teresa Abelleira on the bench. María Pry selected a 4-4-2, looking to balance against star player Esther González’s roaming tendencies.
- Despite the extra player and attempts by both teams to control the game, Levante dominated possession for the first 20-25 minutes. Madrid did alright within this context, staying compact in a medium block with Kaci stepping alongside Asllani. Due to Madrid’s shape and their own formation, Levante tried to distribute out wide quite often in the initial stages, but lost the ball on most attempts due to passing inaccuracy or because Madrid’s wide players were sharp (especially Cardona and Kenti). Slowly, Levante began to figure their opponent out and looked for Esther dropping into the left halfspace. She had some sweet moments turning past defenders, where she then looked to dribble, shoot, or play lay-offs so Levante could progress.
- However, Levante’s best moments came outside of regular possession play. They were particularly well-primed in transition; wingers Eva Navarro and Alba Redondo immediately attacked the vacated space behind Kenti and Corredera while a striker burst forward to support. Levante created 2v1’s on the counter on two occasions in the 1st half, forcing Misa and Ivana Andrés to make world class interventions.
- Madrid didn’t have much going on the ball for long stretches of the match. Levante dealt with their opponent’s numerical superiority by defending in a wing-oriented manner; the far side striker stuck tight to Maite Oroz while the near side forward pressured the center back on the ball. This took Maite out of the game for the first half and made it tougher for Aznar’s team to switch play efficiently. Thus, Real often forced themselves into the wings in search of tough combinations to progress. They found some joy in this approach later on on down the right, but these patterns always broke down near the box.
- That success came from Marta Cardona, who was omnipresent and often the only threat Madrid had. In the 12th minute, Kaci released Cardona down the center on a counter-attack and the #11 charged past her markers before ripping a shot from distance that beat the keeper cleanly.
- The lead lasted under 60 seconds as a consequence of Esther hitting back on a corner kick. This proved to be no isolated incident, as Levante troubled Madrid time and time again with well worked set-pieces from all angles and distances.
- The second half started extremely badly for Las Blancas; Cardona was subbed off for Olga Carmona in the 54th minute due to injury. Nevertheless, Madrid reacted well. Jakobsson, looking more comfortable on the right, began to get going in transition and Olga, one of the most talented players in the league, proved to be an able Cardona replacement. After Teresa replaced Thaisa in the 61st minute, Madrid began to assert some control over the game and half chances started to trickle the away side’s direction. Perhaps feeling the pressure, Levante gave the ball away unnecessarily building out from the back, allowing Kaci to latch onto the loose ball and drive Madrid into the box. In the disorganization, Olga got free in the area and converted from tap-in territory.
- Unhappy with what she’d seen so far and Levante’s loss of the initiative, María Pry reacted by replacing Redondo and central midfielder Irene Guerrero for Estafanía Banini and Sandie Toletto, respectively. Levante soon regained their earlier verve and began to push Madrid back, creating numerous box entries and putting some shots on goal. They risked being countered, and the likes of Jakobsson did get free in transition, but those moments were few and far between. As the game drew to a close, Madrid retreated into a deep block and held firm (Ivana and Claudia Florentino had immense defensive performances), eking out a 2-1 victory against one of the best sides in the league.