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.
Their high intensity and commitment in II allowed them to trap Barcelona out wide and prevent them from switching the field.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 has excellent hold up play and it was on display against Tenerife and Levante.
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.