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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid Femenino 3 - 0 Sporting Huelva

Esther, Nahikari, and Athenea grab the goals in the 2nd half.

Real Madrid v Sporting de Huelva - Primera Division Femenina Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Madrid defeated Sporting Huelva 3-0 in Primera Iberdrola to finish off 2021 with a bang.

Below is my immediate reaction. Player ratings and post-match podcast to follow.

  • Every football fan worth their salt knows that formations are arbitrary — mere guides for the outlook of the general shape. In fact, teams will take up multiple distinct structures throughout the course of a game as they progress from their goal to the opposition’s and retreat back without the ball. Nowhere was this idea more visible than in Madrid’s match today. Real Madrid built from a back four off of goal kicks (Ivana LB) before transitioning into a 3-4-1-2 (Maite CAM). On a turnover, they would defend in a 4-4-2 (Maite RM).
  • If done right, these changes can manipulate the defensive shape in ways that open lanes and cause breakdowns and manifest clean progressions towards goal. Madrid weren’t quite able to achieve that in the first half. The transition from back four to back three was confused in the initial phase. Babs and Ivana stretched incredibly wide while Rocío drifted into the center, preventing the tight, secure connections that are supposed to appear from having an extra figure in the defensive line. Buoyed by Madrid’s labored approaches into the middle third and some giveaways from Ivana, Sporting slowly pushed their line higher and higher, forcing difficult passes and baiting Babs into going long.
  • Real Madrid didn’t necessarily change their shapes in the second half but came out with greater on-ball security and clarity in the middle third. They reset into their intended style, switching more frequently and using their central occupation to find wide openings on the regular. Esther kickstarted the much-improved second period with a rebound goal off of a set-piece.
  • Esther continued to stay involved, making a run in behind, turning, and firing a nutmeg pass to Zornoza, benefitting Nahikari who arrived late.
  • Yet it was Athenea who was maybe the star of the second forty-five minutes. After flashing brilliance in the first period, she came out of the tunnel on a different level, flying past defenders like they weren’t there to feed passes to the far side or shoot on goal herself.
  • The controversy over Esther’s role in this side and her relationship with Nahikari will seemingly never end. Alongside Nahikari, who occupies the defensive line and makes runs in behind, Esther sees herself as the playmaker. Alongside Asllani, Esther sees herself as the striker. Esther provides value in both roles but her imperfections in the latter are much greater. For all her strength and tenacity holding the ball up, she delays the pass too frequently and tends to roam more as a rule and less as a tactical necessity. In certain moments, that can be frustrating. In others, she creates progressions that couldn’t have materialized otherwise. Yet all of this passionate discourse glosses over her very real goal contributions regardless of where she plays. An opener off of a corner and a pre-assist to help set up Nahikari are more than enough to make a player a net positive. It takes a lot for synergistic imperfections to overwhelm that.