Real Madrid Femenino were riding high after eliminating Manchester City in the Champions League at mid-week to qualify for the group stages of the competition for the first time in their history. The win over City came after a blowout loss to Levante. Unfortunately, Real could not build on their momentum from the UWCL, as they were also poor this weekend in a 2-0 loss to their crosstown rivals, Atletico Madrid.
Here are three takeaways from Las Blancas’ crushing loss at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.
Real Madrid Femenino need help in midfield
The common thread between these last two league losses have been poor ball security, ineffective ball progression, and a total lack of control in the middle of the park. New signing Claudia Zornoza is growing into matches and has a good range of passing, but Nahikari Garcia is having some hiccups adjusting. Worse yet, Aurelie Kaci had serious problems on the ball, perhaps fatigued after a workhorse defensive effort against the Citizens at mid-week.
Not having Maite Oroz and Teresa Abelleira on the pitch this Sunday hurt Real Madrid greatly. Oroz’s absence has been felt profoundly so far this season, as she is one of the best midfielders in Europe. Teresa, as we saw on Wednesday, is classy on the ball, too.
Another midfielder in the winter transfer window would be a delight, but, for now, David Aznar needs to think more about his tactics and how to set up his players so that they are not trapped when playing it out from their own half. Furthermore, Real need Oroz and Teresa out there.
Be patient with Esther
Real Madrid signed Primera Iberdrola’s leading goal-scorer last season. Esther Gonzalez has yet to register on the scoresheet this season, but the former Levante star has actually been a standout player in the last two matches.
She worked hard in both contests, defending and dropping deep to collect and pass against both City and even Atleti. Esther can create chances with her intelligent movement and tireless work rate. Even when she is not able to score, she still helps the team with her effort, and it is a huge asset to have two central forwards in Esther and Kosovare Asllani who can fulfill these duties.
So be patient with Esther and the goals. As fans remarked to us on social media, the goals will come once Esther relieves the pressure of scoring her first in the Real Madrid kit.
Mental fatigue in defense
Real Madrid Femenino defended courageously for 90 minutes against Manchester City in their last match, with captain Ivana Andres and fellow veteran center back Babett Peter putting in heroic shifts. So why have Las Blancas defended so poorly in the league?
I chalk it up to mental fatigue. For minutes on end, the back four is exposed by a midfield that loses the ball frequently and cannot keep possession, meaning Real Madrid must frequently defend counterattacks and stay alert.
You can only ask your defense to be focused and stifle counterattacks and track runners for so many minutes in a match. If you repeatedly expose your defense to stressors game after game, minute after minute, you are going to inevitably have breaches and lapses of concentration, even from players who are normally stalwarts like Ivana, Misa, and Kenti Robles.
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So the first issue and the third issue go hand-in-hand. Fix up the problems in midfield and with the build-up play attacking-wise, and the defense will be able to play to the level we expect, based on the talent in the lineup.