Recap & Highlights: Real Madrid Women 1-0 Manchester City Women; UWCL Qualifier, Round 1 Final

Real Madrid defeated Manchester City 1-0 in what turned out to be a thrilling contest, with Las Blancas suffering plenty of scares in the second half after a fairly comfortable first forty-five minutes. Below are my immediate thoughts and notes.

Player ratings and a post-match podcast will follow.

  • Alberto Toril went with an unchanged lineup from the 6-0 win over Sturm Graz; however, Madrid played in more of a straight 4-2-3-1. This was likely to ensure better rest defense (and protect Claudia Zornoza) vs. City’s sizable transition threat. It was the right call but impacted Madrid’s dynamism in possession.
  • Real Madrid got an early chance via Olga’s brilliance on the touchline, where she flicked a ball over her head and beat a defender, leading to a sequence that set up a cross into the box. Feller got to the right spot but her shot was steered wide. On the resulting corner, Olga received the ball at the edge of the area and volleyed a shot on target.
  • Madrid defended in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 quite similar to what they used the last two times they played City. However, the intensity in open play was a level lower than what we saw in the past and City had freedom playing out from the back. On goal kicks (and on Madrid’s right side, where Feller was a defensive menace), it was a different story. In the 15th minute, Madrid won the ball back vs. a goal kick on their right and Esther thumped in a cross. Weir controlled on the turn vs. Laia Aleixandri, steadied herself, and blistered the net to make it 1-0 vs. her old team.
  • City continued to have some success getting Lauren Hemp down the left for a stretch of minutes after conceding, with Madrid probably needing to be a bit more aggressive in pressing deeper options. Nevertheless, the Sky Blues’ execution flagged and they began to turn the ball over repeatedly in the midfield. Madrid further grew into the game as a consequence and the likes of Athenea and Feller got more opportunities in transition — the latter bullied Leila Ouahabi into being subbed off at half.
  • In the 33rd minute, Madrid repeated their corner routine to Olga, leading to a cross and a flick-on that put Sousa in front of an open goal. Incredibly, the Brazilian put her shot on the bar.
  • In addition to Demi Stokes coming in at left back for Leila at the break, Gareth Taylor also brought on Laura Coombs to replace Vicky Losada. Taylor was forced to make another change five minutes later, when Chloe Kelly went down injured, necessitating the introduction of Hayley Raso.
  • The second half quickly devolved into a lot of end-to-end play. Madrid constantly smelled a chance to kill the game off while City’s desperation to find the equalizer only grew. Athenea and Feller had plenty of moments where they could run at the defense, but City were also able to find more dynamic progressions thanks to the increased space and tempo, and looked threatening as the clock wound down.
  • Khadija Shaw came off Deyna Casetallanos in the 68th minute. The former created a shot from nothing early in the second half, when she turned Ivana on the chest control and forced Misa into a save, but largely lost out in her battle to the Madrid defender.
  • Toril made his first sub in the 73rd minute, with Kenti being swapped out for Lucía. Taylor used the opportunity to replace Laia with Steph Houghton.
  • In the 74th minute, Mary Fowler shuffled down the left and put in a ball to right back Esme Morgan, who took the defense by surprise and flashed a shot past the post.
  • Madrid experienced a true heart-in-mouth moment in the 80th minute, when City turned it over high and Hemp fed Deyna for a shot that went off the post.
  • Maite came on Feller in that same minute to help establish a measure of on-ball control. Her most impactful moments, though, came in transition: she passed the ball to herself around a defender and released Athenea in a 3v1 counter-attack that Stokes stopped; then, in the 88th minute, Maite sent Esther through in a 1v1, which Roebuck saved.
  • Real finally had a true extended spell of possession in the 84th minute and created a solid chance. Athenea released Toletti down the right with a cheeky back-flick and Esther pulled the cutback straight at Roebuck.
  • Weir took to the bench in the 86th minute, bringing Teresa Abelleira into proceedings.
  • The concluding seconds involved Madrid barely holding on. The final whistle brought sheer relief, confirming Madrid’s passage to Round 2 of the qualifiers, where they now have to beat a team in a two-legged tie. An explanation charting our possible opponents can be read below:

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