After spending almost a full season watching the respective journeys Atlético Madrid Femenino and Real Madrid Femenino have taken, there was an air of inevitability with how this match would go. The way it would unfold may have been unknown but watching Atlético snatch defeat from the jaws of victory has become a running theme for their season, domestically and in Europe. The game that saw two red cards and a fine finish may have perfectly underlined just how off the rails Atlético’s season has become and it also showed the resilience and fight that this Real Madrid team has found within themselves. A will to win that was shown emphatically by María “Misa” Rodríguez as Las Blancas celebrated a big win in their push for European football in front of their rival’s fans.
David Aznar stayed with the 4-3-3 formation that had seemingly brought his side success over the last few weeks despite missing Babett Peter and Kosovare Asllani. However, just as his side settled into the game, his plans were thrown out the window. In the 12th minute, Olga Carmona had stayed back during a corner kick for Real Madrid and she put herself into trouble with a loose pass in midfield. Ludmila was put through on goal with Carmona snapping at her heels and the Real Madrid winger brought down the Brazilian before she could be one-on-one with Misa. The referee didn’t need a second look, immediately pulling out a red card and making things a lot more difficult for Madrid.
Atléti continued to try and play their way through a now 4-4-1 Madrid team instead of expanding the field and then exploiting the gaps that being an extra player up would create. They almost saw that punished on the break as Jessica Martínez managed to hold off Laia Aleixandri but before she could speed away, Aleixandri brought her down and earned herself a yellow card.
The warning signs were there of how dangerous Real Madrid could be on the counter but Atléti, or should I say José Sánchez Vera, did not heed those warnings. Instead, the home side decided to play similarly to the way they played against Chelsea FC Women in the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the end result was the same, a loss from a position of a win. There was no real attacking impetus from Atlético and Sánchez Vera kept his fullbacks further back instead of asking them to push forward and overwhelm the low block Real Madrid had set up. The first half finished with not much to comment on except that Real Madrid had been the side that adjusted better to the sending off, something that the home fans would not have been happy to see.
The second half saw a more attacking approach by the hosts and it forced Real Madrid’s Misa into making a few decent saves. Even with those saves, you still felt that Atlético were not doing enough to win the game, despite having been a player up since the 12th minute of the game. Substitutions made no difference as Real Madrid dug deep and defended well against a slow and ponderous Atlético attack. With all of the talent on display, Atlético were incredibly disappointing and as the game wore on, you could sense that a repeat of their first leg defeat against Chelsea was on the cards.
That feeling was amplified when Sofia Jakobsson put Real Madrid in the 67th minute. After pushing up to press the Atlético backline, Marta Cardona quickly switched the ball to Teresa Abelleira who then played a fantastic pass through for Jakobsson to run on to. The Swedish forward took a touch to steady herself and then slipped the ball past her national team compatriot Hedvig Lindahl.
Atlético were caught cold and were now forced to try and break down what would be an even more resolute Madrid side who now had the lead. Instead of the hosts pushing forward and bombarding the Madrid goal, they self-imploded instead. Deyna Castellanos, who had just been shown her first yellow in the 73rd minute, then decided to charge in, stud up, as Misa was coming forward to collect an inaccurate pass. Castellanos initially protested her innocence but it didn’t last long and anyone watching would have agreed with the referee’s decision to award her a second yellow card and thus, a sending off. And so, Atlético now had to find a winner with both teams down to 10, even though they could not find a way through with a player advantage.
As time wore on, Atlético’s again did not create enough to truly threaten the Real Madrid goalkeeper and despite having the majority of the possession, found themselves losing by a solitary goal when the final whistle blew.
This result isn’t just a marker placed down by Las Blancas for this season, it’s also a worrying sign for Atlético who, up until this season, had dominated the derby. Now, the team in white is in the ascendancy while their neighbours are slowly slipping further away from being regular title challengers and winners. This is not just a result that quite possibly has ended Atlético’s hopes for European football next season, but it has also opened the door for Real Madrid to truly take over from their rivals and become the dominant team in Madrid. They have the financial backing, the right manager and a style of play that is starting to pay off. Atlético Madrid are looking at what could be the start of their diminishing dominance and the rise of Real Madrid, with Atlético apparently doing nothing to stop that rise.
Here’s the thing, Atlético Madrid are better than this. They have players who are better than this and are led by the man who brought them to great success before. Yet here we are, watching them tumble out of Europe with barely a whimper and now facing the same fate of finishing outside the Champions League spots with hardly a murmur too. A win against their rivals would have put them equal on points but now, they are six points behind. They also still have to play league leaders FC Barcelona Femení, and based on the evidence in front of us, they will lose that game. In other words, they are now desperately hoping that Real Madrid go on a poor run of form and they themselves don’t drop any points from now until the end of the season. It’s not just Real Madrid they have to fend off in order to play in the Champions League, Levante are in second and not looking like falling away any time soon, Madrid CFF are also in the hunt, as are Real Sociedad and Granadilla. Sánchez Vera believes that his team have not been able to decipher their matches well enough to win them and Amanda Sampedro insists that Atlético will “fight to the end because that is non-negotiable”. The problem is, Sampedro’s words have not been matched so far by Atlético’s performances on the pitch. Instead, her team has wilted at any hardship that they have faced and are now looking at a very difficult road ahead for their Champions League hopes. A far cry from the Atlético that many had seen over the last few years in Spain and in Europe.
Real on the other hand, are seemingly completely in the zone and ready to match every test ahead of them. Misa was calm during her post game interview despite her reactions after the final whistle. The Madrid goalkeeper stated that they “have 12 finals ahead of us and the only thing we can do is win.” She’s absolutely right as they are up against second-place Levante UD Femenino next and they know that that will not be an easy match either. If she, and those ahead of her continue to perform though, a Champions League spot is in their hands. 12 games to go with Levante, Madrid CFF, Real Sociedad Femenino and UD Granadilla Tenerife all poised to give Real everything they can handle and more. 12 wins in 12 are doable for Real Madrid, they have enough talent and strength in their team to do so. If their efforts against Atlético are anything to go by, they also have the mental fortitude to pick up those wins too.
- Madrid CFF’s chase for continental football continued on with a 3-1 win over SD Eibar Femenino. Estela Fernández, Geyse Ferreirra and Valéria all got on the scoresheet for Madrid CFF while Thembi Kgatlana found Eibar’s only goal of the game. The win puts them in fourth, five points away from Real Madrid with a game in hand. There is still plenty of football to be played and like the other teams in the chasing pack, Madrid CFF will feel that they still have a chance to finish in the top three.
- Levante could only manage a 1-1 draw against Real Betis Féminas but they kept their second place in the table. Sandie Toletti put the hosts ahead in the 71st minute but Mari Paz Vilas found the equaliser for Betis in the 78th minute. It was a stumble by Levante but one that they can afford at this stage of the season. They are a point ahead of Real Madrid and still in the driving seat to finish in the top three. They can’t afford too many more slip ups though.
- The other two teams looking to finish in the top three are Granadilla and Real Sociedad. Over the weekend, it was Sociedad that gained the advantage as they look to chase down Levante and Real Madrid. Sanni Franssi put the visitors ahead in the 21st minute but Raquel Peña pulled Granadilla back on level terms through a penalty in the 48th minute. Bárbara Latorre pushed Sociedad back ahead with a penalty of their own in the 56th minute and it stayed that way until the end of the game. The win puts Sociedad in sixth, seven points behind Real Madrid but with a game in hand. Granadilla have now lost two in a row and sit in seventh but they do have two games in hand over Real Madrid and could still push themselves back into the race for top three.
- A word on FC Barcelona. The title race is all but a foregone conclusion so most of the focus is on who will finish in second and third but their dominance cannot be understated. They have now won 19 games on the trot, ending this last round of fixtures with a 5-0 win over Valencia. At a time when their past rivals Atletcio are faltering, Barcelona are seemingly going from strength to strength. They will now look to translate that dominance in Europe but for now, they are the standard in the Primera Iberdrola and everyone else is playing catch up.