Spain’s Primera Iberdrola mid season review: Football and Stars are coming home, and it’s a beautiful mess
At the pro stage, a full football season looks like a rollercoaster for teams, players, coaches and fans alike. Enter the ingredient of exponential growing being experienced by the women’s game in Spain and then you won’t even need to wait until summer: the ups and downs, the drama and the surprises are already here. So, what happened during the first leg of the Primera Iberdrola season? An awful lot.
It all started with a bang. Mighty Real Madrid took the decision everybody was waiting for: they would put in place a women’s side to compete for silverware in Europe and Spain in the short term. With the promotion of CD Tacón, a little club from the capital, los Blancos took over the club and showed their intentions with the signings of Kosovare Asllani and Sofia Jakobsson. The Swedish duo, arriving after an excellent World Cup participation, were enough to fulfill expectations: this is for Real.
And what about the giants already here? FC Barcelona thought an extra bit of atacking power might help, and so Jennifer Hermoso, Caroline Graham Hansen and Asisat Oshoala joined a team already capable of reaching a Women’s Champions League final. For Atlético de Madrid, three times league champions in a row, the blow of losing Hermoso and Andrea Sánchez Falcón to rivals Barça was levelled with the adquisitions of top goalscorer Charlyn Corral, plus the likes of Toni Duggan, Sari Van Veenendaal and Virginia Torrecilla. In top of that, Atleti just won the race to sign the emerging Venezuelan talent Deyna Castellanos. Certainly not a bad Christmas gift.
A full cloud of question marks were dispatched in the very first game week when Barça said “Not for now” to Tacón with a 9–1 demolition in their new home, Estadio Johan Cruyff. From that match onwards, the Champions-in-wait have won 14, draw one and lose none. Did someone ask about goals? They have scored 62, with Hermoso and Oshoala reaching the net thirty times jointly, which matches Atlético’s total number of goals. A bit frightening, to be fair.
It’s no surprise, then, to find Atlético de Madrid trailing Barcelona seven points behind. The reigning champions, who were forced to find a new coach after José Luis Sánchez Vera decided to leave in October, are still the second best team in the country by far. The problem being a “it’s not me, it’s you” scenario, as Barça finally built an All-Star team focused on winning a trophy drifting away from their hands since 2015.
Nobody expected them, everybody roots for them
And so, with Barça and Atleti switching roles at the top of the table the fun has moved to other latitudes, making the league a delight to watch. The Biggest Surprise prize is not in contest anymore. Deportivo de la Coruña, a Spanish powerhouse in the men’s game, was promoted to Primera Iberdrola and took what seemed like a reckless decision at the beginning of the season: they would compete with a bunch of promising but almost untested young players.
The result? Fighting for the third spot –just after the giants–, winning a lot of matches and playing in a joyful-fearless-attacking way that makes everybody see their fixtures as a must watch. María Méndez, Tere Abelleira, Iris Arnáiz, Athenea del Castillo and Gabriela García are here to stay.
Something similar can be said about EDF Logroño. Many looked at them as a ‘fighting against relegation’ team but proved otherwise. Sitting confidently in the 8th position, they can sit and look at the survival race taking place more than ten points away. Their playbook mixes Depor youth with a dose of experience. Their forwards are a clear example: 33-years-old Jade and 19-years-old Banda credit for 17 goals of the 27 in total scored by the team. Still, a headache might be approaching for the remaining fixtures, as Banda just sealed a deal that will see her competing in China.
Fantastic teams and where to find them
As the women’s game in Spain reaches professional status and tries to close the gap with the English and German competitions, clubs are still trying to adjust to the extreme changes that come and go every season. For those who are part of a bigger, historic structure, their curse and blessing are sides of the same coin.
Look at RCD Espanyol, Sevilla FC, Real Betis and Valencia CF. Four teams with a heavy name to carry thanks to their men counterparts. They are all winners of the national Cup and League champions (apart from Espanyol); the four stand proudly as part of the top ten clubs with the best historical record in the country.
Every fan knows their names. Not everyone, thought, is aware of the unique trends and dynamics of the women’s game. During the 2019–20 season, you better look down the table rather than up, as they all have a big battle to win: survival against relegation.
A new fan of the game coming for the first time to support the women’ side of their team might suffer a stroke. Facing the differing realities of the same club brew badly with the casual fans who could fall in love with Primera Iberdrola. Assuming that your glorious team is a work in progress is not easy. Although it might be fun to watch anyway.
That’s the case for the Sevilla, Betis and Valencia. Everybody believes that their place at the mid bottom is wrong, and surely they have a roster built with something different in mind, but competition is ruthless. It’s also blind with names, surnames and colours.
And that leads us to the case of Espanyol, a club that happens to have a proud history both in the men and women’s game. Even more, their status is bigger within the latter, being both a League champions and a record six-time winners of the Cup. Lots of silverware, and lacking any use when you have not won a single game by the time being.
It seems like the two teams from Barcelona were the quickest ones to pick what will be their final seat in the table. Sadly, it’s not looking right for those who wear the pretty white and blue kit of Espanyol.
An appreciation note to the freewheelers
Amid the general trends noted above, there are teams and players that deserve a few words. And that may be one of the best news about the Spanish competition, as talent keeps arriving to Primera Iberdrola making things interesting everywhere, North and South, East and West.
- Real Sociedad, crowned Copa de la Reina winners last season, made the biggest non-movement of the whole league as they convinced Nahikari García to stay in the beautiful city of San Sebastián. It has already paid off, as la Real looks great when she’s on the pitch. A top class goalscorer surrounded by a classy and confident team. It cannot go wrong.
- Athletic Club started suffering, then recovered. They are still a fairly good side, with Ángel Villacampa as head coach and with Damaris Egurrola and Lucía García still in the team. If Spain’s National Team is about to win a tournament in the future, both Damaris and Lucía will be key in doing so.
- Levante UD did everything right during summer, bringing in a new but experienced coach and maintaining a clear path for the team. For them, it looks like fighting for the third spot is just easy and natural. It is not, but having Rocío Gálvez, Ona Batlle, Maitane López, Alba Redondo or Eva Navarro on your side helps a lot.
- CD Tacón record is as awkward as their status, a just promoted team on the shadow of Real Madrid, the biggest team on Earth. The duality extends to their roster -half signed across the world, half coming from second division– and ditto to their league record. Painful losses, exciting wins and lots of strange results inbetween. This is a gap season until the famous rounded badge disembarks in the women’s football universe.
- Rayo Vallecano, Granadilla Tenerife and Sporting de Huelva are in nowhere’s land. Three teams that will certainly win unexpected fixtures only to lose the next one. Rayo may be in for an easy ride until the end of the season while Granadilla and Sporting should try and fight for every point, as the sleeping giants on their back are not in any way dead.
- There are a lot of players I didn’t mention, and it would be a no brainer to sign them for any Primera Iberdrola fantasy team. A glimpse of them, as all are playing great and deserve recognition: Ludmila da Silva, Ángela Sosa, Laia Aleixandri, Oriana Altuve, Mariona Caldentey, Merel van Dongen, Rosa Márquez, Olga Carmona, Cata Coll, Toni Payne, Alba Mellado, Berta Pujadas, Mari Paz Vilas, Ainoa Campo, Chioma Ubogagu, Jessica Martínez, Lucía Rodríguez, Kiana Palacios.
- The single most crucial game week was the ninth, where no goal was scored. In fact, no match was played as players went on strike. After weeks of tricky negotiations between players’ Union, teams’ Union and Spanish football association, an agreement was reached to improve contract conditions for the players.
- And last, an encouragement note to the growing number of players who suffered severe injuries during these months. Quick recovery to all of them!
That’s it. Half of the season is gone. It’s been wonderful, and the best is yet to come. We’ll be here to see what awaits because the future looks bright. Things are only getting started.
I’ll be glad to keep the conversation going here and on Twitter, where you can also find me: @AlcalaZamoraFer