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Immediate Reaction: Vllaznia 0 - 2 Real Madrid; UWCL Group Stage

Zornoza leads Las Blancas to victory on her 32nd birthday.

K.F.F Vllaznia v Real Madrid CF: Group A - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Filip Filipovic - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Real Madrid defeated Vllaznia 2-0 in their first Champions League group stage game of the season. Claudia Zornoza was the standout performer, with Maite Oroz making a significant impact off the bench.

Below are my immediate thoughts and analysis, accompanied by some highlights. Player ratings and a post-match podcast will follow.

  • Caroline Weir’s removal from the squad was the big talking point for Madridistas. Thankfully, Arancha Rodríguez confirmed that her knock was nothing serious, and Alberto Toril was still able to pick a pretty strong lineup. Sandie Toletti returned from injury and slotted straight into the eleven alongside Claudia Zornoza and defensive midfielder Freja Siri. The formation was a 4-3-3.
  • Madrid knew what type of game it was going to be immediately. Vllaznia sat off in a 5-4-1 block and defended with their lives. Real had a positive start, putting early pressure on the box and winning a few set-pieces; Kathellen Sousa caused serious trouble thanks to her height and aerial ability. Wingers Athenea del Castillo and Olga Carmona looked bright in the early going, with the former driving at defenders fearlessly and the latter making threatening runs in behind.
  • However, The All Whites’ performance began to flag as clear-cut chances in open play remained scarce. Vllaznia grew emboldened and started to produce a few counter-attacks here and there, even coming close to getting a header in the box. It’s clear that Madrid sorely felt Weir’s absence, with Zornoza being the only figure trying to initiate between the lines. Toletti usually offers a strong vertical presence but was strangely nondescript in her movement. Perhaps she is not fully fit yet. Whatever the reason, it made it very difficult for her side to produce the patterns and movements to truly destabilize Vllaznia’s block. Thus, the half ended 0-0.
  • Unsurprisingly, Maite Oroz came on for Toletti after the break. The difference was immediate. Maite played as an attacking ‘8’ across from Zornoza and added another threat between the lines. This created a second wing triangle and target for Vllaznia to track behind the backs of their midfield, making it easier for Madrid to both probe dangerous areas and find Zornoza, who was no longer all on her own. In the 54th minute, the birthday girl made her impact, playing a beautiful first-time ball to Esther for the opener.
  • Zornoza continued to stay involved for the rest of the match, firing a vertical pass into Esther only minutes later (Esther turned her defender well but her second touch let her down, allowing the keeper to collect calmly) and getting off a few shots. There’s little doubt that she was Madrid’s best performer on the night.
  • Toril subbed on Feller for Athenea in the 67th minute. It wasn’t the latter’s most spectacular day but that has been a rarity this season.
  • Bolstered by the goal, Madrid attacked Vllaznia with renewed vigor and looked close to doubling their lead. Olga Carmona took over in the 76th minute, going 1v1 inside the edge of the box and drawing a penalty. There was a leg dangling as Olga hit the turf, but Madrid’s #7 definitely made the most of it before converting coolly from the spot.
  • Toril made his final subs with 10 minutes left in regular time: Nahikari, Ivana, and Teresa replaced Esther, Rocío, and Olga, respectively. Maite moved to the left wing to keep Madrid’s 4-3-3 shape and Nahikari had a few opportunities to make it 3-0.
  • With this win, Real Madrid look ahead to Levante in the league before preparing for PSG at home next Wednesday.

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