Real Madrid played their best game since the international break in their comprehensive 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao away from home. Below are my immediate thoughts and match highlights. Player ratings and post-match podcast to follow.
- David Aznar selected an eleven that appeared to indicate a return to relative normalcy after a lot of experimentation with 4-2-3-1’s and Marta Corredera getting minutes in attack. But it soon became clear that the formation was not the expected 4-3-3. Instead of looking to receive on the touchline, Sofia Jakobsson and Marta Cardona positioned themselves in an extremely narrow manner, occupying the entire defensive line by threatening the channels. This allowed Kosovare Asllani to drop off and search for space in-between Athletic Club’s passive 4-4-2 mid-block. In order to keep width, fullbacks Olga Carmona and Kenti Robles pushed forward aggressively. Maite Oroz and Teresa Abelleira controlled deeper areas and Aurélie Kaci roamed throughout the halfspace in relation to Cardona’s and Kenti’s movement.
- The discipline of Cardona and Jakobsson and the team’s commitment to maintaining good spacing was unexpected and had not been seen in previous iterations of the 4-4-2 diamond (or 4-3-3 with a false nine — same difference). Previously, the utilization of wingers as inside forwards led to a disconnect between player tendencies and intended role, resulting in inadequate occupation of the defensive line and stunted progression. The tactical reversal on the day allowed for some of the best football Madrid have played all season — most certainly since the international break.
- In the 11th minute, Real Madrid struck. Marta Cardona, who looked more comfortable than Sofia in this scheme, received inside on the half-turn and sprayed a pass out wide to Olga. The left back swiftly put a cross into the box, which Kenti picked up and reversed for a cut-back. Cardona continued her run and met the delivery. The deflected shot put the keeper off and allowed Asllani to dispatch a rebound off of the weak save.
G⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️LLLLLL de @KosovareAsllani que fue la más lista y aprovechó un balón que se quedó suelto en el área.— Misa Malena Ortiz (@Misa_CF) May 23, 2021
Decimoquinto gol de la temporada en Primera Iberdrola. #HalaMadrid | #AthleticRealMadrid pic.twitter.com/mJAwAJUoNs
- Clearly feeling herself, Cardona got back into goal scoring form with an absolute stunner. Words can’t do the goal justice, so just watch:
- Real Madrid also pressed from a diamond shape; Cardona and Jakobsson harassed the center-backs while Asllani shadowed the pivot. Any vertical pass beyond the front three would be attacked by one of Kaci, Maite, and Teresa. Madrid were so intent on staying within their structure that they even maintained it in deeper settings, giving themselves good counter-attacking threat but also leaving their fullbacks somewhat isolated defensively.
- It was the application of high pressure that got Las Blancas off to a great start in the second half. Maite Oroz robbed possession and fired off a blocked shot that Kaci collected and put away with aplomb.
- Of course, with things going so well, Madrid had to concede for no reason. Ivana failed to control a cross and Lucía García got the consolation goal.
- At least she’s a Madridista, though!
- Athletic Bilbao started to target Olga more with wing combinations and a marauding fullback, but they lacked extended spells on the ball to make the most of that strategy.
- In the 68th minute, Aznar packed up his successful tactical experiment by subbing on Marta Corredera and Lorena Navarro for Teresa Abelleira and Sofia Jakobsson, respectively. The formation changed to a 4-2-3-1, with Corredera operating as a left-winger.
- Jessica Martínez came on for Cardona in the 80th minute before Claudia Florentino replaced Olga ten minutes later and Madrid saw out the rest of the game without much incident.