Real Madrid Femenino defeated Athletic Bilbao 3-1 on Sunday thanks to an exciting and high-quality performance both on and against the ball. David Aznar selected a lineup that everyone thought would be the normal 4-3-3 we’ve seen for most of this season.
Instead, Aznar went with a 4-3-3 false nine approach; Kosovare Asllani navigated the space between the lines while wingers Sofia Jakobsson and Marta Cardona sat high and narrow, constantly threatening the channels.
This was not the first time that Aznar has tried something like this. Previous iterations of the 4-4-2 diamond — which is much the same as playing with a dropping striker and two attackers occupying the defensive line — had aided Madrid’s press resistance but faltered in the final third.
The difference vs. Athletic Bilbao was the positional discipline of Jakobsson and Cardona. Whereas, previously, they declined to stay central and followed their natural urge to stretch wide to the touchline, the duo were far better about sticking to their duties against the Basque outfit. As a result, Athletic’s defensive line was pinned back and forced to congest horizontally, giving Asllani and fullbacks Olga Carmona and Kenti Robles time and space to receive.
It must be noted that Cardona looked more comfortable in this role and Sofia did start to drift wider to get on the ball as the game wore on, but the latter factor was not common enough to destabilize the offensive approach.
The diamond shape was also seen on defense: both for high pressing and when Madrid sat deep.
However, it was more relevant in advanced areas, where the narrowness of the front three enabled good counterpressing and high possession regains when the opposition built from the back.
I have criticized David Aznar’s tactics heavily over the course of the season, but credit where credit is due — his underlying ideas were fundamentally sound and he got his players to buy in and execute to the needs of his system. The result was dominant football that put the game away inside fifty minutes and brought Real Madrid one step closer to hearing the new Champions League anthem next season.