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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 2 - 1 Rosenborg; UWCL Qualifying, Round 2, 2nd Leg

Athenea and Weir do it again.

Real Madrid v Rosenborg BK - UEFA Women´s Champions League Second Qualifying Round Second Leg Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Madrid came back from behind to defeat Rosenborg 2-1 and secure their passage to the UWCL group stages. It was a thrilling game with a lot of tactical nuances.

Below is my immediate reaction and analysis, along with some highlights. Player ratings and a post-match podcast will follow.

  • Alberto Toril decided to renew the Caroline Weir false winger experiment from the 1st leg, only making a few rotations elsewhere. One of them saw Maite Oroz come in for Freja Siri, pushing Claudia Zornoza back into the double pivot. The thought of Maite and Weir playing together was intriguing and reflected a possible advantage of this lineup, which saw Weir roam in from the right opposite the ‘number 10.’ This would enable Maite to stay in advanced zones where she is most effective, creating a 2-2 look in midfield to overload the opposition midfield. The concept worked wonderfully vs. Rosenborg last week, but the underdogs came prepared this time.
  • Rosenborg defended in a 4-1-4-1 instead of the previous 4-4-2, giving them an extra number in the center and staggered positioning to cover vertical areas of the pitch. This made it more difficult for Toletti to zip easy vertical passes between the lines. Aside from the tactical switch, Rosenborg’s execution was simply better as well, with players more engaged and communicative against the ball. They were no doubt buoyed by an early goal in the 8th minute, which gave them some hope of achieving an epic upset.

  • Rosenborg’s effectiveness in transition and the impact of wingers Hansen and Josendal drove their offense. Their press and new defensive look played a part in this, engendering turnovers and urging Madrid into a transitional style, thereby allowing Rosenborg to come the other way more frequently. In general, Las Blancas lacked the mentality and profiles to slow play down and kill the game, and it showed.
  • One thing Madrid did not lack was chances in the first half. Although Lucía and Svava both struggled vs. their marks, both (the former, especially) put balls into the box and found their targets. Esther was heavily involved as a shooter and managed to strike the bar with a header off of a free kick. Earlier, Toletti blazed a Lucía cross over the bar from point-blank range, although the finish was more complicated than that description makes it sound, since the ball bounced high and at an awkward angle.
  • Toletti had her night cut short in the 39th minute, coming off for Teresa (presumably due to a knock).
  • Somewhere in the middle of the first half, Weir and Athenea swapped sides. Athenea got even more effective on the right and Weir stayed remarkably involved, but it diminished Maite’s influence. Since Weir occupied the left halfspace, Maite was pushed deeper, creating more of a lopsided L look in midfield.
  • Real ended the half with a disallowed goal; Weir was called for offside after a mazy dribble from Athenea.
  • Toril’s side opened the second half in the best way possible, scoring an equalizer off of a delightful assist from Athenea. Weir’s run into the box was perfect and she ended up getting a high-percentage shot.
  • This proved to be the tipping point in regard to the balance of the game. If Rosenborg had been thriving in the end-to-end atmosphere before, they got overwhelmed by it in the following minutes. Athenea burst forward relentlessly, threatening to release others into space or go to goal herself. In the 61st minute, she netted a stunner, shaping up 1v1 and unleashing a firecracker from her right foot.
  • Toril made a double sub 300 seconds later, bringing Zornoza and Svava off for Olga and Feller. Olga moved to left back and Feller took the right wing, shifting Athenea to the left and making Weir a true #10 ahead of Maite and Tere.
  • In the 76th minute, Toril made another double swap, replacing Esther and Weir with Nahikari and Freja Siri; Maite became the attacking midfielder and Freja joined the double pivot with Tere.
  • With the flames of hope extinguished at this point, the game calmed down considerably and those on the pitch saw proceedings out comfortably. Real Madrid can now take their place in the UWCL group stage, with the aim of making the knockout rounds just like they did last season.

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