David Aznar took the Copa de la Reina very seriously, seeing it as a chance to win silverware in a season where the league title was always a fantasy. As a result, he rotated vs. Levante and played one of his strongest elevens against Athletic Bilbao: Sara Ezquerro (GK); Esther (LB), Ainoa Campo (LCB), Osinachi Ohale (RCB), Babett Peter (RB); Lorena Navarro (LM), Aurélie Kaci (LCM), Thaisa (RCM), Sofia Jakobsson (RM); Kosovare Asllani (LS), Jessica Martínez (RS) (4-4-2).
CD Tacón started off the first half strong. Their ball progression looked cleaner than usual thanks to the presence of Ainao in the back line. Her press resistance and passing skill was an excellent base for Tacón’s passing moves and, with Asllani dropping quite a bit to aid build-up, Las Blancas were able to enter Athletic’s box three times within the first fifteen minutes.
Off-ball, Tacón hunkered down into their classic 4-4-2 medium block. Asllani and Jessica worked particularly hard to shield Athletic’s lone defensive midfielder, demonstrating how much they wanted to win this particular game. Tacón’s strikers were supported ably by Kaci and Thaisa, who bothered Athletic’s interiors.
For the first half-hour, Athletic hardly threatened in slower possession play. They lacked the patience to work through Tacón’s defensive structure and quickly turned to pumping passes into the channel or going direct. Instead, they showed flashes of their threat on the break; they sought to play expansive balls into space down the flanks after their striker dropped to receive.
In the 31st minute, Tacón’s good work was undone by an individual defensive mistake (I feel like I’ve written this in almost every single review this season), when Ohale completely whiffed a clearance after Ane Fuente failed to control a through ball. Fuente recovered possession and drew a foul from Ainoa in the box.
Garazi Astorkiza converted from the spot to put Athletic Bilbao up 1-0.
Ohale eventually went off injured (resulting from her mistake) and was replaced by Daiane, moving Ainoa to right center-back. Despite the change in positions, Tacón continued to build down their left and they, consequently, lost a level of control over the game. Athletic took advantage and nearly scored from a set-piece that saw everyone miss the eventual cross, before getting in-behind Tacón’s defensive line to fire in a cut-back that was redirected just past the post.
Ironically, Daiane sparked the comeback goal when she played a fierce diagonal into Thaisa in injury time. Athletic’s defensive structure was abysmal in this instance, as they left their entire right side completely unprotected. Sofia received the pass from Thaisa and won a corner. The delivery was good, but the opposition goalkeeper bailed Tacón out by charging off her line and completely missing the ball. This allowed Jessica to control and convert into an empty net.
The chaotic end to the first half bled into the second, with Tacón being unable to institute the game state that had seen them look the more threatening side in the opening thirty minutes. Part of this was down to the brutal nature of the match — challenges were fast and furious and the physios got as much time on the pitch as the players.
The environment suited Athletic, who created dangerous chances in any sort of transition situation. In the 64th minute, they played a lofted ball over the top down the right touchline, following a bizarre decision from Ainoa to follow her mark past midfield. As Tacón’s defense narrowed to cope, Athletic’s wide player easily reached the pass and played a cut-back, which caused Daiane to commit a foul on Erika Vázquez.
Astorkiza made no mistake on her second try from the spot, placing the ball in exactly the same place as before.
The goal sparked a flurry of changes from Aznar: he brought on Chioma Ubobagu for Lorena in the 67th minute, Malena Ortíz for Jessica in the 76th minute, and Patri Carballo for Esther in the 83rd minute. The substitutions had minimal effect; though Tacón experienced sporadic periods of sustained possession, they failed to make it count.
The away side’s best moment of the half came towards the end of the game, when Asllani flicked a throw-in towards the right touchline. Jakobsson burst onto the pass and played in a cross to a late runner. Thaisa controlled the delivery but fired wide of the post from a tight angle.
It almost got worse for Tacón in the 90th minute, when Athletic counter-attacked off of a poor deep free-kick — substitute Oihane Cabornero placed her shot into the side-netting after dribbling past the goalkeeper.
With this loss, Tacón have been eliminated from the Copa de la Reina. They must, now, turn back their focus to the league and continue the good run of form that has seen them move out of the relegation zone and into mid-table.
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