Real Madrid dispatched Athletic Bilbao 3-0 away from home. Below are my immediate thoughts on what transpired, along with some highlights and tactical analysis.
More post-match content will follow.
- Sandie Toletti’s absence was the main obstacle that Alberto Toril had to overcome with his lineup selection, and he approached the problem by sliding new signing Freja Siri into defensive midfield. Toletti and Freja are not particularly similar stylistically, but the former does offer a lot of defensive value and Toril might’ve sought to replace that with a more traditional pivot. The other notable rotation was Esther being dropped for Nahikari up top.
- The early minutes were characterized by successful pressing sequences from Athletic. Madrid misplaced a lot of passes — some were forced by tight marking and good structure, but others were simply down to bad decisions. Kathellen Sousa, who has a reputation for making risky decisions out of the back, caused the most notable one, although she was far from the only individual to cough up possession.
- Things looked good for Athletic at this point (Svava had to make a last ditch-effort to prevent a fantastic chance from materializing in the 3rd minute), but Madrid eventually calmed down and found options through Olga Carmona’s superb ball carrying and the well-timed, dropping movements of Caroline Weir and Nahikari García. Claudia Zornoza’s unambiguous position (was she in a double pivot or a midfield three?) didn’t make Athletic’s life easier, and the half ended with the Basque side looking remarkably open compared to the beginning of proceedings.
- Nahikari was extremely involved in the first forty-five, getting on the end of a few chances in the box before nabbing a tap-in around the half-hour mark. Although the finish may have been extremely easy, she helped create the opportunity with a press that ushered keeper Quiñones to the center (and to Weir), flipping the script on Athletic.
- Athenea maintained her purple streak by netting another near-post stunner in the 40th minute. The amount of space she had to fire off her shot showed just how much the balance of play had changed by this point in time.
- At halftime, Athletic coach Iraia Iturregi tried to stir Athletic back to life by subbing on Peke Barea for Yulema Corres. However, it didn’t alter much. Real Madrid simply got more and more comfortable as the match wore on, setting the stage for the Caroline Weir show in possession; she was brilliant turning out of pressure — even if someone was draped all over her — and kept possession circulating in a way that engendered total control.
- Toril went for some early changes himself, removing the excellent Olga for Maite Oroz and Sousa for Rocío Gálvez in the 61st minute. Soon after, Esther González replaced Nahikari. Maite floated in from the left as an attacking midfielder while Athenea swapped to the right. The addition of Maite as another central option went a long way to helping Madrid kill the match in possession — a notable development given the tendency for Las Blancas matches to get and stay chaotic, especially if the opponent decides to press.
- Toril made his final subs in the 82nd minute: Naomie Feller for Athenea and Teresa Abelleira for Freja Siri.
- The scariest second-half moments for the All Whites in the came ~near the restart and the end. The first of those saw Misa fly way off her line to clear a pass in behind. She made contact with the ball but absolutely clotheslined the runner, resulting in a yellow card. Misa redeemed herself in the 95th minute with a magnificent save, which then allowed Caroline Weir to go on and make it 3-0.
- Real Madrid displayed a lot maturity with their game management in this win and comfortably disposed of a capable opponent. Before they take on Alavés next, everyone must depart for the international break.
- You can watch the full match replay here: