Real Madrid defeated Alhama 3-0 in the Copa de la Reina round of 16. Toril chose a 4-2-3-1 lineup with mild rotations — Gérard; Lucía, Babs, Claudia F., Svava; Tere, Zornoza; Lorena, Maite, Møller; Nahikari — which got the job done but struggled to dominate.
Below are my immediate thoughts on what transpired. Player ratings and post-match podcast to follow.
- In rather typical fashion, the lower-division underdogs, who were supported by maybe a hundred fans on bleachers, defended like their lives were on the line. There was the expected mid-block in most possession sequences, with tight marking in midfield, but there was also a high press on goal kicks that gave Madrid a fair bit of trouble.
- In general, there was too much dribbling from Las Blancas, both from the back and in attack. Claudia Florentino suffered the most, failing to bypass the first line like we know she can, probably influenced by her position at left center-back; Alhama could push her to the touchline where her body orientation was more awkward. Lucía also had some poor moments and Møller was unable to take advantage of her 1v1 matchup in the first half.
- Off turnovers, Alhama sought to get in behind as quickly as possible. They caused Madrid’s back line a notable amount of complications and even managed to create a pretty good chance in the 26th minute.
- Madrid’s best sequences came from patient spells and lots of passing when Zornoza-Maite-Teresa could interchange and make deep and wide movements to pull Alhama’s midfield line all over the place. This, in turn, opened up the center of the pitch for Nahikari, who missed a 1v1 chance after being played in behind from an up-back-through pattern. Several minutes later, Maite and Zornoza’s interplay opened up the middle again and Lorena was able to strike the post.
- Madrid calmed things down somewhat with a goal from a set-piece. Teresa’s delivery was perfect and Babett Peter simply had to connect to float a header into the back of the net.
- Toril brought on Athenea for Maite after the break, moving Møller to the right and Lorena into the #10 position.
- The pace of play slowed somewhat in the second half, with Alhama unable to maintain the same level of intensity as before. A nasty injury to the head was perhaps a sign of their approach taking its toll, as a flying challenge lead to an accidental collision.
Duele solo de verlo….Que se recupere bien pic.twitter.com/skKc9XNkN5— FCBSeny (@FCBseny) March 1, 2022
- However, Madrid were never able to use the gradually-reducing pace to their advantage and the match remained a fairly scrappy affair. The All Whites continued to force the ball through tight spaces on the flanks and engage in duels, keeping possession zipping back and forth in the way Alhama preferred. In fact, Real began to start going long on goal kicks just to try to get the ball upfield and into Nahikari, who became more and more uninvolved as the match progressed.
- Lorena was the most consistent solution throughout her time on the pitch. Her influence only grew after she was moved into attacking midfield and she offered rare relief with her movement and receptions between the lines.
- Olga Carmona and Esther González came on for Lorena and Møller, respectively, in the 76th minute, moving Athenea to the right to make way for Olga and creating a two up top.
- Olga went down in pain only a few hundred seconds later, having flown into an aerial duel, prompting Toril to bring on youth player Sara Martín for her Real Madrid debut.
Olga just subbed on and is already hurt pic.twitter.com/RPOGO4ZJ2p— 6_hedonist (@6_hedonist) March 1, 2022
- Alhama seemed to get a second wind in the final minutes and flooded forward on the counter, forcing the opposition back line into last ditch actions, and won a corner kick that produced a dangerous chance. Toril reacted by subbing Nahikari for center-back Rocío Gálvez, moving Claudia into midfield. Interestingly enough, Florentino made her best action of the game soon after, running into the channel before firing a cross/shot that Esther nearly got to.
- Esther’s introduction correlated with a massive uptick in chances. She soon got on the end of a Zornoza pass that couldn’t be steered on goal.
- But Esther converted minutes later off of a corner kick.
- And then won a penalty that Zornoza slotted away at the death.
- It wasn’t a pretty performance but one could argue that’s basically “Real Madrid DNA” at this point when it comes to the domestic cup. Hence, Toril will probably be happy enough with the three points on a poor pitch.