On Sunday, Real Madrid Femenino will take on the best team in Spain — FC Barcelona Femení. La Blaugrana sit at the top of the table (despite having three games in hand), with 12 victories in 12. They’ve scored 69 goals — an average of 5.75 per game — and have only conceded 2.
The last time the two sides faced, Barcelona won 4-0.
Thus, It’s safe to say that Real Madrid face a near impossible task in El Clásico. Regardless of whatever is said to the press, the objective will be to bunker down and hope that points can be nicked thanks to good defensive play and a fair bit of luck.
Atlético Madrid managed it in the Supercopa de España semifinals, which offers a modicum of hope to David Aznar’s women.
But, while much of the pre-match preparation will understandably focus on how to contain Barcelona’s threat from open play, it would be a huge mistake to not pay equal attention to the Catalan side’s potency from set-pieces — particularly on corner kicks.
Barcelona demonstrated the remarkable amount of thought that goes into their routines vs. recent opponents Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol.
Against the former, there was a concerted effort to pack the majority of players right on the goal line, so as to impede the goalkeeper’s movement and make it incredibly difficult for defenders to execute clearances. The strategy also had the effect of creating a 1v1 in space on the far side — a rare sight in set-piece situations.
These sequences demonstrate a clear logic:
- Make opposing defensive actions as difficult as possible.
- Make one’s own offensive actions easier by getting good looks close to goal or by manufacturing situations where qualitative superiority can shine.
Barcelona took these principles to another level vs. Espanyol with their short corner kick variations. By packing different areas of the box, the Catalan side were able to create space for a wall pass inside the area, cut-backs, un-trackable movement from the penalty spot, 1v1 situations for dribbling maestro Caroline Graham Hansen, and free shots for players lurking at the edges.
And, on top of all of that, Barcelona switched up their in-game routine just for kicks and scored from a more traditional situation.
The amount of things Barcelona were doing that game were too many to count and a lot of it didn’t make it into the video for the sake of brevity and simplicity. You only need to see so many permutations and combinations to recognize the precision and efficiency with which Barca are able to manipulate their way into optimal positions.
Unfortunately, coach Aznar and his staff have no such luxury. They must study every single trick up their rival’s sleeve and design specific ways to counter them. The need for such rigorousness is arguably heightened by examples of poor set-piece defense from Real Madrid Femenino this season.
Below are three occasions where conceding from a dead ball scenario cost them points:
Against Barcelona, there can be no lost markers, no poor clearances, and no weakly tracked runs to the near post. Real Madrid Femenino have to be perfect on defensive set-pieces if they are to have a chance at stealing a result in El Clásico.