In their first season under the official name ‘Real Madrid,’ the Femenino side managed to finish in 2nd place, only behind the treble-winning Barcelona squad. Real Madrid made nine signings at the start of last season, with almost every one going on to make a big impact in the run for a UWCL qualifier spot.
But, as 2021/22 looms, Real Madrid can’t rest on what they did in the prior campaign. They are still far from a perfect squad and have genuine areas of concern that need immediate attention if they are to consistently challenge at the top.
As the summer window kicks into gear, so have the changes to the squad. So far, six players have left the club. The likes of Sofia Jakobsson, Jessica Martínez, and Thaisa are no longer a part of Real Madrid. As for the arrivals, Madrid have brought in 24-year-old Real Sociedad striker Nahikari García and 30-year-old midfielder Claudia Zornoza from Levante.
Let’s take a look at the current age and minutes-played distribution for the still-remaining members of the squad from last season.
Note: Nahikari and Zornoza are only on the graph to demonstrate how they adjust the squad’s age profile, hence, they are shown to have played “0” minutes for Real Madrid.
Real Madrid have a good core in Misa Rodríguez, Maite Oroz, Teresa Abelleira, Olga Carmona, Ivana Andrés, and Marta Cardona, who are either in their prime years or on the cusp of entering into their prime years. Madrid also have a good batch of veterans in Babett Peter, Aurélie Kaci, Kosovare Asllani, and Kenti Robles, who have played at the top level across Europe.
All of these veterans (including Jakobsson) were a crucial part of last season’s team. Kaci featured in every single Primera Iberdrola game of the season and Asllani was the side’s top scorer with 16 goals. Babett formed an incredible partnership with Ivana at the back, with both players complimenting each other’s style of play really well. Kenti bombed down the right flank and terrorized opposition defenses without sacrificing defensive coverage.
The current age-minutes profile of the squad looks to be well-balanced, as the average age of the current group of players is just over 25. The arrival of Nahikari (24-years-old) has added to those who will be soon entering their prime. Her signing has also addressed the hole left in the squad after the departure of Jessica. Youth goal-scoring sensation Ariana Arias (18-years-old) can be a backup and learn a lot from Nahikari.
Taking a further look at the position-age profile of the squad for the current players, the problem areas start to become clearer.
Madrid have three center-backs and two right backs in the team. The CB position seems covered with Ivana having a lot of years ahead of her and Babett having signed an extension recently. The immediate concern is at fullback, particularly on the left side. In 2020/21, the LB role was filled by Marta Corredera and Olga, none of whom naturally play that role.
While Olga did a good enough job at the position (Olga’s recovery speed made up for the positional errors she’d make), her best can seen in a more advanced role, where she gets to express herself in the final third. Corredera, on the other hand, struggled trying to play at left back thanks to her right-footedness, which restricted and limited her output and made her predictable for opponents. The LB position hasn’t been addressed since the club let go of Esther in 19/20. Every option to play that position in the current squad is a makeshift one and comes with its own set of problems.
Madrid have a talented and extremely skilled duo of Maite and Teresa. Their youthful zest is complemented by the experienced legs of Kaci and Zornoza. The midfield situation is far from ideal though, with Malena out due to injury and no set date for her return. Even when including her, Madrid’s depth is paper thin and has a gaping hole in defensive midfield.
In the 20/21 season, Maite played as a deep-lying playmaker at the base of a midfield three that saw Tere and Kaci ahead of her on most occasions. While Maite naturally likes to function in advanced areas, she did well as the deepest midfielder, providing support in the initial build-up phases, aiding ball progression, and controlling the tempo of the game. However, Madrid’s back line often lacked a screening presence in the midfield. Not being the quickest player also restricted Maite from occupying areas higher up the pitch, as she would need to recover over longer distances in order to stem a counter-attack.
Teresa is slightly better suited to operating in a deeper role given her time at Deportivo, but she functioned as the more adventurous midfielder in a double pivot. Kaci isn’t the ideal solution either, as she likes to be more box-to-box.
The club has tried to address this problem with the arrival of Claudia Zornoza from Levante, but that transfer comes with a caveat. At her old club this season, Zornoza played in a double pivot alongside Sandie Toletti, whose off-ball work-rate is among the very best in the world. Zornoza was paired alongside Maitane, who is a defensive midfielder, the season before that. This allowed Zornoza the freedom to be adventurous in possession, which is what she is excels at.
Thus, there isn’t enough evidence to assert how well she’d do with more defensive responsibilities. There were times where she was caught out at Levante due to her lack of overall defensive awareness, but Zornoza could work well alongside either Teresa or Maite if Madrid go down that route. It won’t be a perfect solution — just a better one than using Maite in defensive midfield.
One could say that the #6 role hasn’t been addressed head-on since the club let go of Ainoa Campo, who is a ball-playing DM that could provide cover at CB as well. For a team that likes to play 4-3-3/4-4-2/4-2-3-1, not having a destroyer profile in the squad is far from ideal and having just four midfielders is similarly unideal for an institution that aspires to compete on all fronts.
This should be one of the main areas Madrid address in current and future windows. Additionally, Las Blancas should always be on the lookout for versatile midfielders who can play multiple roles and offer the systemic flexibility to react to game state and other factors.
This is one area where Madrid’s squad looks “okay” in terms of options and profiles. They have addressed the striker position with Nahikari’s arrival. The LW role could be and ideally should be filled by Olga, but this depends on how Madrid handles the LB problem at hand. Asllani can play in the front two while also being capable of filling in as the lone striker, which she demonstrated this season (though the latter isn’t the ideal situation). Lorena Navarro is an intelligent player who offers a rotation option for Madrid. Cardona is one of the pillars in Madrid’s attack, having finished the season as the 2nd top scorer in the team.
“Real Madrid always wants to build big. This club has a bright future, but it will take time.” These were Asllani’s words before the club’s first ever match against Barcelona in 2019, back when she still played for “CD Tacón.” Those words still ring true. Madrid do want to win and the fans want Madrid to be the best. But when will the club get there? That depends on the quality of the squad and whether it possess the right profiles to create a complete, balanced, and dominant footballing side.