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ANALYSIS: Esther Finds Form By Returning To The Basics

The forward has turned in a string of good performances by playing to her strengths.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid: Quarter Final Second Leg - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Real Madrid center forward Esther González has had a good run of form in the month of April. Even though Madrid’s loss to Sporting Huelva earlier this month was hard to take (and not streamed), it doesn’t take away from the good things she has done. What has helped Esther find good form is going back to what makes her so good. Throughout March, she often drifted into deep and wide areas during games. Her performances with Spain during the international break were a good reminder of how good she can be when she remains in high areas of the field.

In this post, I’ll discuss the difference between the types of goal opportunities she has had with Madrid this season compared to those last season with Levante, the actions that make her dangerous, and how she strayed from doing those things last month.

Goal Opportunities

Esther is Madrid’s leading scorer this season with 14 goals. Her first season in white was preceded by an incredible year with Levante, where she scored 27 goals and narrowly lost out on the Pichichi title (top goal scorer award). Playing in a different system with different players always presents a challenge for transfers, but Esther has done well to score enough goals to be the fifth highest scorer in = Primera Iberdrola. However, looking at Esther’s shot location maps from this season and last season, one can see that there are a few differences.

Levante shot location map from Statsbomb. From this map, it’s easy to see that Esther is clinical in the area between the penalty spot and the goal line. The two things that stand out are the number of opportunities that came from through balls and open play crosses. Levante clearly took advantage of her movement along and through back lines as well as finding her for headers in the box.
Real Madrid shot location map from Statsbomb. This shot map only covers the first half of the season until December. However, it is a contrast to the Levante shot map in terms of how her opportunities are being created. There are more attempts with foot/other.

The biggest differences between the two maps are the abundance of shots created from through balls and open play crosses with Levante, and the absence of those opportunities in her Madrid shot map. The open play crosses that Madrid do find her with don’t have enough quality — only 2.63 xG and 0 goals scored out of 14 shots. It appears that Madrid is still figuring out how to fully take advantage of Esther’s qualities.

What Makes Esther Dangerous

To better understand how Madrid can get the best out of Esther, it’s important to identify what she does well. Esther’s best attributes are finishing, exploiting holes and weaknesses in the opposition’s back line, and making short, checking runs off of the back line.

Esther showed in the space just in front of Barca’s back line. Ivana passed to her, and she evaded two Barca defenders in her turn. She then played Asllani in the gap.
Esther presented herself as an option to Asllani in the space in front of Barca’s back line. Asllani passed to her and continued her run, and Esther found her in the space through.
Esther made a short checking run off of the back line. Her run attracted the Scottish defenders and she passed to Alexia who was making a run into the space she vacated.
Ivana found Esther’s short checking run. She turned the Betis defender and ran into the gaping space and scored.

She is also very good at getting in the seams between defenders and receiving through passes or passes over the top of back lines.

Esther made a run in behind and timed it so that she was onside and had a head start on the back line. Her run forced the goalkeeper out of her box to make a foul.
She positioned herself in the seam between the center back and the right back. She also escaped the midfielder’s attention. Alexia spotted her run and chipped it, but there was too much on the pass.
Zornoza had the ball in the midfield and Esther put herself in the space between defenders. Zornoza found her with a good pass, and Esther received and scored.

Whenever Esther is able to get on the end of set-piece service, she does a good job of putting a redirection on target. She has scored from set-pieces four times this season in the Primera Iberdrola and was unlucky to hit the post in their game against Deportivo Alavés on Sunday and in their home match in the Champion’s League against Barcelona. Despite not finishing many open play crosses this season, she is capable, as seen in her shot map with Levante.

Where She Strayed from Her Best Role

It’s easy to see that Esther is a player that wears her heart on her sleeve. She plays with intensity and energy. This was epitomized in her performance in the first leg of their quarter-final matchup against Barcelona. She bullied their back line for most of the game, and it felt like she would make them pay for their sloppiness.

Her ability to be a nuisance (as well as her other aforementioned qualities in this post) makes it hard to understand why she often took up a de facto 10 role in manager Alberto Toril’s 4-2-3-1 last month. It’s not to say that she can’t fulfill the duties of the 10 role, or even have some success in that position. She did have some good moments in that role.

In this buildup, Esther was slightly deeper in a 10 role. She received the ball in that area and kept possession moving forward.
In a very good buildup from Madrid, they cut through Granadilla vertically and Esther played Nahikari through on a great ball (Nahikari skied her shot).

Despite the good cameos in that role, Esther doesn’t have the instincts of an attacking midfielder to recognize deep crowded areas that are not conducive to her getting on the ball. Opponents might also view the fact that she is in a deep area as a small victory, because it means that she is farther away from where she is most dangerous.

Esther checked into an already congested midfield.
Esther checked deep and ended up dictating the buildup from the back in a 6/8 role. The silver lining was that Granadilla was stretched and their shape was a mess, so it was easy for Esther to play forward.

The frame above where Esther played Nahikari in behind represents the conundrum that exists when Esther ends up in a 10 role: she has the ability to make those passes, but wouldn’t they prefer her to be on the receiving end of those passes as the team’s best finisher? Additionally, there is more to the attacking midfield role that other Madrid players are better suited for, and no one in the squad has proven to be as good of a goal scorer as Esther.

Against Alavés this past Sunday, Esther played with Asllani up front, but it was clear that Asllani was the deeper of the two players this time. It worked out because Esther scored the only goal of the game and gave them three vital points in the Champion’s League race.

It is always a challenge for the technical staff to figure out how the players fit together to get the best out of the individual as well as the collective. Esther is Madrid’s best goal scorer and it’s in the interest of both club and player that she plays where she can have the most impact.

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