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Tactical Analysis: Evaluating A Month Of Clásicos

A look at what worked and what didn’t; plus a word on Nahikari.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid: Quarter Final Second Leg - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

March was the toughest month of the season for Real Madrid. They were fighting to keep their Champion’s League hopes alive for next season in the league and they had to face Barcelona three times: once in the league and twice in the Champion’s League. Madrid should feel good about their results in such a grueling month. They won every game except those against Barcelona. Next year’s Champion’s League qualification is in their hands and they made the games against Barcelona competitive for long stretches of time.

This post will look at what Madrid did well over the three Clásicos and what they didn’t do well. I will also discuss Nahikari’s impact.

What Worked for Madrid

Throughout this post I will refer to Madrid’s league game against Barcelona as I, the first leg of the Champions League at home as II and the final game at the Camp Nou as III. Much of what worked well for Madrid against Barcelona came in II. They came into the match with high focus and high intensity which lasted until the controversial penalty. They had success with long balls into Esther González that isolated her 1v1 with Barcelona center back Andrea Pereira. Getting Athenea del Castillo more involved was also key as she is an important ball progressor for Madrid.

Athenea in a position where her center back could find her. She proceeded to beat three Barca defenders on the dribble.
In I, she kept a high and wide position and it was hard for Madrid to find her and get her involved.
In II, the double pivot of Tere & Zornoza did a great job of winning the ball back, and they immediately found Athenea as an outlet.

Their high intensity and commitment in II allowed them to trap Barcelona out wide and prevent them from switching the field.

Madrid had a numerical advantage in a wide area (5v4), and forced Barca into a turnover. This is the pressure that allowed them to be so successful for most of this game.

Being able to trap Barcelona on their right side greatly benefitted Madrid. Athenea was deployed on that side and she caused Barcelona left back Leila Ouahabi headaches all game. It also meant that the ball was on the opposite side of Caroline Graham Hansen, who generates a lot of offense for Barcelona.

What Didn’t Work for Madrid

Playing away at Barcelona will always be difficult, and even more so in a completely full Camp Nou. The energy levels and focus were not the same for Madrid in the away matches as they were in the home match. Looking beyond that, there were multiple areas where Madrid fell short in I and III. The first area was the buildup play. It was too stagnant against an intense Barcelona defensive set up and press.

In this buildup in I, someone from Madrid needed to be where the ref was to break the press. A run from Tere, or a checking run from Asllani to lay off to Tere. Instead, the ball was played out to Athenea whose touch went out of play.
Here, Ivana needed to take a more aggressive touch forward so that Kaci would have been an option. Kaci had Tere underneath in support facing forward. The arrows are suggested passes.

Because the long ball worked well for them in II, they resorted to hopeful long balls in III. In the buildup to the penalty in III, Madrid won the second ball off of Barcelona center-back Irene Paredes’ clearance. Setting up to win second balls could have been an area for Madrid to try and use, as they should have recognized that the long ball was going to be tougher to win with Paredes’ presence, but the buildup to the penalty was the only time it happened.

In minute 42 of III, the camera showed Toril asking Tere and Zornoza to take up wider starting positions to try and get on the ball. Zornoza followed instructions, and was able to get on the ball in a wider and deeper area.

Svava pushed higher up the sideline, and Zornoza took her place at left back. Zornoza was still forced to make a longer pass, but it was a 3v3 on the left side of the field which was more a favorable numerical situation.

It is interesting that Madrid did not try this pattern more frequently in III as it gave them better numbers going forward, and they had success with similar patterns several times in their previous game against Levante.

Svava pushed higher up and Zornoza filled the left back position against Levante. Madrid had success with this pattern and could have used it more in III.

While she had some good touches throughout the game, Athenea’s impact in III was greatly diminished compared to her impact in II. Part of the reason for that was Madrid’s less dynamic movement in wide areas compared to the games leading up to III.

Lucía beat two Barca defenders, but her options were limited. Both Athenea and Esther made the same straight run forward. The arrows are suggested movements. Barca left back Fridolina Rolfö was facing the play and Athenea had a running start, so it would have made sense for her to attack the space in behind. Esther needed to make a checking run to pull Paredes with her. Tere was also caught sleeping on the play. She should have recognized that her mark went to put pressure on Lucía and made a supporting run.
The wide movement against Levante was lacking in III. Athenea took up a wide position to drag the defender, and Nahikari (not seen in the frame) made a checking run.

Madrid did not keep Barcelona pinned to a side even when they had numerical advantages. This allowed Barcelona to switch the field at will and take advantage of Madrid defenders that were dragged out of position.

Jenni Hermoso made a deep checking run that dragged Peter out of position. She then chipped to Rolfö. When Rolfö received the ball is when Madrid should have pressured her with intensity because they had a numerical advantage out wide. Instead, she was allowed to find Aitana in the middle and they exploited the area that Lucía left to put pressure on Rolfö.

Barcelona also took full advantage of Sofie Svava’s positioning in I and III. There were multiple occasions where she kept tight positioning with her back line instead of stepping and putting pressure on Hansen. It is not clear whether this was an instruction in order to not get pulled out of position by Barcelona’s dynamic runs, or if it was a player’s decision. However, allowing players of Hansen’s ilk to receive the ball with time and space and to make easy entries into the box can hurt teams, as it did vs. Madrid.

Right at the start of the second half in I, Graham Hansen gets the ball out wide. Instead of stepping to her, Svava decided to keep her defensive line and Olga can be seen trying to get back. Graham Hansen easily enters the box and it results in a Barcelona corner.
Svava stayed with her defensive line and didn’t step to Graham Hansen. Olga was tracking back. Luckily, Peter intercepted Hansen’s cross.
Svava’s positioning in the buildup to Alexia’s goal was confusing. Graham Hansen received the ball out wide and she again did not step. Olga again was trying to track back. When Alexia’s movement got the better of Ivana, Graham Hansen sent her through and Svava was left behind.

Even though it seems like there was a lot that didn’t work for Madrid over the three Clásicos, it will be important for them to focus on what did while trying to improve on what didn’t.

Nahikari’s Impact

Nahikari García has had a tough debut season for Madrid. However, when she was given opportunities to play during the past month, she showed glimpses of what she can be when she puts it all together. When she came into the game during I, she improved Madrid’s play. Kosovare Asllani had been deployed as the high forward, but remained on the fringes during the whole game. Nahikari actively presented herself as an option for her teammates.

Nahikari presented an option to Svava with her back to goal. She turned and won the challenge between two Barca defenders. She continued her run into the box and received a pass from Athenea. Her shot was off target.
Nahikari shifted slightly to position herself to receive a pass from Robles. She engaged the defender and was shaped to shield the ball.

Nahikari has excellent hold up play and it was on display against Tenerife and Levante.

Nahikari checked and received with her back to goal. She turned with pressure on her back and played a good through ball to her forward.
A good team move started with Rocío stepping to a Levante player and Esther picking up the ball. Nahikari read well on where to show for support and kept Madrid’s progression moving forward.

Nahikari had a fantastic goal at the beginning of the month against Athletic Club, and her shot against Levante hit the crossbar. The shot location against Levante may not have been the best in terms of goal scoring chances, but she hit it very well. That is despite her not being super full of confidence. Madrid and women’s football fans alike will be hopeful that Nahikari continues to work her way back to her best form.