Real Madrid Femenino will be adding two new chapters to their folklore when they face off against Manchester City in the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers. The first leg will be played on August 31st at the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium (tickets were sold out in a day). The second leg is scheduled for September 8th.
Real Madrid have made eight signings going into the season. Nahikari García, Athenea del Castillo, Lucía Rodríguez, and Rocío Gálvez make up the influx of young Spanish talents and have been supplemented by seasoned veterans in the form of Méline Gérard, Esther González, and Claudia Zornoza. The latest transfer is Caroline Møller Hansen, a 22-year-old Danish forward. David Aznar’s side come into this tie having played two preseason friendly tournaments against outfits like Turbine Potsdam and Real Sociedad.
While this will be the first ever UWCL appearance for Real Madrid, Manchester City have experience under their belt. Gareth Taylor’s side famously became the first team to beat Barcelona in regulation time in the return leg of their 20/21 quarter-final tie. Let’s take a look at how City like to set up and the players who could prove to be decisive in this fixture.
How Does Gareth Taylor’s Side Play?
Taylor set up City in a 4-3-3 last season, utilizing a Keira Walsh-Caroline Weir-Sam Mewis midfield three. This was accompanied by an attacking trident consisting of Lauren Hemp, Ellen White, and Chole Kelly. City preferred to play out from the back starting with the goalkeeper, Ellie Roebuck, passing it to the center-backs, who moved the ball out wide to the fullback. They rarely went long from goal kicks. A lot of impetus on progression fell to the fullbacks, with City preferring to build through their right-hand side to take advantage of Lucy Bronze’s ball-playing abilities.
City love to keep possession and pin the opposition back with as many as six players pushing up to attack (wingers, fullbacks, striker, and a midfielder), but also have enough pace on the break to catch opponents out. Once the ball is in the final third, City look to move play to one of the wingers (Hemp or Kelly), who either aim for the striker or a midfielder or beat their marker first and then look for a blue shirt in the box.
The late runs from the far side winger are really dangerous, with Kelly and Hemp combining this way numerous times last season. A good example of this would be against Arsenal, when Hemp scored a thumping header to give City all 3 points after arriving late in the box at the far post.
Manchester City’s Squad Turnover
City might have lost US internationals Mewis, Rose Lavelle, and Abby Dahlkemper — who have all returned to the NWSL — but have made some shrewd signings to compensate; the frightening Khadija Shaw is another goal-scoring option for them and Vicky Losada brings experience. City have also signed the Aussie duo of Hayley Raso and Alanna Kennedy, both of whom offer City some flexibility in how they play. Raso can play as a right-winger and right wing-back while Kennedy is comfortable playing in defense or as the deepest midfielder.
Potential XI vs. Real Madrid
Players to Watch
Real Madrid will have the mammoth task of keeping Lauren Hemp quiet over two legs. Arguably England’s best wide player, Hemp has got a lot going for her. The three-time Young Player of the Year (across two different teams) can often make defenders look like mere training cones with her dribbling ability.
6. Lauren Hemp (20, LW, /Man. City)— Yash (@Odriozolite) May 21, 2021
Lauren Hemp is a two time PFA women’s YPOTY winner (2018 & 2020). After missing the start of 20/21 due to injury, her return saw City go on a 15 game unbeaten run in the league (14W, 1D). The talented & industrious winger is key for City. pic.twitter.com/NEJKAGwPnc
She has quick acceleration that allows her to create separation from her marker in the blink of an eye; loves to drive at defenses and help her side move the ball up the pitch via her carries; and isn’t shy of a physical tussle either. Her awareness to stretch the field or drift inwards when necessary is brilliant. She is also a great crosser.
Giving Hemp any sort of space to attack is just asking for trouble.
Ellen White’s recent injury makes it more likely that Manchester City’s new recruit, ‘Bunny’ Shaw, will feature. She comes to England off the back of a 22-goal and 7-assist season, finishing as the top scorer in the French league. Additionally, she ended the season as the joint-top assister for Bordeaux, helping them clinch a UWCL qualifier spot in the process.
Shaw is deceptively quick and a dominant figure in the air, owing to her height, making her a threat on set-pieces. Her hold-up play is phenomenal and she has a wicked shot on her, making her a capable threat from range.
With Bronze and Kelly both out due to injuries, Manchester City’s right flank is slightly handicapped. This will probably mean a shift in their primary ball progression route, with a lot of it going centrally via Walsh. The 24-year-old is one of the best passers of the ball in the game. She has brilliant range in her distribution and possesses the vision to pick out runners or find bodies between lines, enabling her to bypass pressure with ease.
Walsh is the one that makes City tick, acting as a link between defense and offense. If Madrid will have to reduce her time on the ball significantly if they are to gain control of the game.
Keira Walsh passing profile 2019-20 season— Yash (@Odriozolite) April 20, 2021
One of the best passers in the world. Her range of distribution is brilliant. Circulates the ball really well. Her vision to play long forward passes is amazing.
Data from @StatsBomb
Feedback appreciated! pic.twitter.com/lvb1uX7H03
The queen of worldies is probably an apt way to describe Caroline Weir.
The left-footed midfielder comes alive in the attacking third of the pitch. She is a brilliant dribbler and has impeccable close control, making it easy for her to navigate through tight spaces and a pack of bodies.
She has set-pieces in her arsenal and a long shot on her (obviously). Weir loves to drive with the ball and join the attack at every opportunity. Her counter-pressing is brilliant as well, allowing her side to recover possession high up the pitch.
Weir is one of the central cogs of this Manchester City. She is the constant outlet for them while building from the back. Her passing range allows her to pick passes accurately.— Yash (@Odriozolite) September 7, 2020
Everything flows through her & she formed one of the best midfield duos along side Keira Walsh. pic.twitter.com/DE7x6iuodV
Versatility is the name of her game. An attacking midfielder with good vision on her, Stanway has been fielded everywhere, even featuring as a right back on occasions. The 22-year-old has been around for ages despite her youth and, therefore, has a refined skillset between the lines, permitting other forwards to play off of her. Her positioning and reception on the half-turn is brilliant and she releases the ball quickly to punish defenders who have been dragged forward.
Stanway’s work-rate is incredible, making her a big asset for the side as she can bring balance. She doesn’t shy from physical battles and the ‘dark arts’ and knows a thing or two about scoring screamers herself.
Real Madrid will need to get a lot right if they are to get the better of Taylor’s side. In Las Blancas’ preseason, we saw some impressive individual moments but also witnessed the vulnerabilities in set-piece defending and how our defensive and midfield lines struggled against quick attackers. City can hurt us in both of those ways.
We also saw Madrid field different set-ups, with the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 diamond making appearances. It’ll be interesting to see how Madrid cope with the loss of Marta Cardona and make room to accommodate Esther, Nahikari, and Kosovare Asllani, the latter of whom returned from a summer in Tokyo with the national team. We will most likely see Asllani in the second leg of this tie instead of the first. Aznar will also have to manage the minutes among his squad, as the Spanish league starts on September 4th, with the opening fixture against Levante.
Real Madrid will be the underdogs and there are still a lot of questions that need answering, but one thing is certain: hasta el final, VAMOS REAL!