Natalia Arroyo: The Mastermind of La Real
Whenever there is any conversation about the Primera Iberdrola, Barcelona Femeni always come into the equation. But only a few people are aware of other teams of Primera Iberdrola, especially La Real Sociedad! They play entertaining fluid attacking football which is a treat for sore eyes. But La Real Sociedad is not only about fluidity in attack, it is much more than that. This team has a clear blueprint of what is going on both on & off the pitch.
The rebuilding of Real Sociedad Femenino is an ongoing project undertaken by Natalia Arroyo as they aim to qualify for the prestigious UEFA Women’s Champions League for the very first time.
The project that Natalia Arroyo has started at La Real was far from easy. Let’s turn our clocks back to February 9, 2020, when La Real faced Barcelona Femeni in the final of the first edition of Super Copa Femenina. Barcelona whipped apart La Real as the scoreboard read 10–1 after the final whistle. This loss was one of the darkest days in the history of La Real. They struggled to cope with the pace, intelligence and technical ability of the Barcelona players.
This defeat shattered La Real camp; coach Gonzalo Arconada said: “It is impossible to beat Barcelona when they kept on signing foreign players and left Spanish players on the bench”. Gonzalo had heavily criticised the Super Copa Femenina format as “The other teams can never compete with Barcelona and the Federation needs to closely assess it”.
But the reality was far different from what Gonzalo took it to be! Barcelona had 8 Spanish players in starting XI & 3 foreigners. 7 out of those 10 goals were scored by Spanish players. This had a severe effect on La Real’s performance; they started the season on a strong note but they could only end up reaching the 6th spot in the table. After the end of the 2019–20 season, Gonzalo Arconada departed the club and the era of Natalia Arroyo kicked off in May 2020.
NATALIA ARROYO PROFILE:
Before Joining La Real Sociedad, Natalia Arroyo had previously managed Catalonia U-15, U-17, and U-19. Current Barcelona Femeni manager Jonathan Giraldez and ex Barcelona Femeni manager Luis Cortes has previously worked under her and learnt a lot of things. Natalia Arroyo joined the Real Sociedad Femenino with a clear cut plan in her mind, something she is known for since her youth development days with Catalonia.
DEVELOPMENT AND REBUILDING PROJECT:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every project takes time to structure and complete itself. Natalia Arroyo had a clear blueprint of how she wanted her team to be set up. The main aim was to develop the squad into a young and rejuvenated one. Natalia brought in talents like Amaiur Sarriegi, Nuria Rabano and Maitane Lopez Milan.
Natalia Arroyo also gave chances to Lete, Adriana Nanclares and Cecila Marcos in the first team. Arroyo instilled a new mentality into this squad in order for them to express their talents at a big stage. Game after game La Real kept on improving. Natalia Arroyo had a specific style of play and system which helped the team tick with whatever limited resources she had at her disposal in her first season at the club (2020/2021 season). It is very important to have a clear sustainable idea whenever one is managing a football team, especially during its rebuild and Arroyo had that.
She transformed the team into an attractive footballing side. La Real finished the season at the 5th position in the Primera Iberdrola achieving 61 points in 34 games. In this season, Nahikari had to spend a lot of time on the sidelines due to injuries. Meanwhile, Nerea Eizagirre and Amaiur Sarriegi became a formidable duo.
Nerea Eizagirre captained this La Real side in the absence of Nahikari Garcia as she helped her side reach new levels. At age of 21, she managed to make 100 appearances in the Primera Iberdrola. The best was yet to come from La Captiana as she was turning into a quality player.
After the end of 2020–21, there were strong rumours that 9 players would most likely leave the club. Lucia Rodriguez departed for Real Madrid Femenino and childhood Real Sociedad Femenino fan Maitane Lopez Milan departed for Atletico Madrid Femenino. Barbara Latorre also joined Atletico Madrid Femenino . Nuria and Leire Banos departed for Levante UD Femenino and Sun Quinones joined Athletic Bilbao Femenino.
These departures surely raised some concerns and questions regarding La Real’s future. But football isn’t played on paper. Natalia Arroyo didn’t change her system. She stuck with the same basic principle of fluid football. And guess what, La Real’s season wasn’t hampered at all. They continued their new season from the same place where they had left it last season – Fluid Football, Link-up Play and Occupying Spaces.
Natalia Arroyo trusted in the youth and made huge strides in improving & developing the academy. The likes of Gemma Gili, Iris and Clare Pleuler impressed everyone. Natalia Arroyo gave importance to possession & counter-attacking football. The team had a clear idea of how they were supposed to play on the pitch. Natalia Arroyo has experience of scouting as any other manager does but what was special about Natalia’s scouting was the rise of Amaiur Sarriegi. Under Natalia Arroyo, Amaiur has been exceptional, to say the least. She began her development in Bilbao & is now playing under the guidance of Natalia Arroyo. Amaiur is a working-class professional and is one of the captains of La Real .
Amaiur Sarriegi has potential to be one of the most prolific goal scorers in the world. People should keep a close eye on her development. She is one of the top prospects of Spain right now. Currently, La Real are 2nd in the League table with 44 points and they will be hoping to complete their quest for UWCL football very soon.
NATALIA ARROYO TACTICS:
La Real Sociedad Femenino’s tactics under Natalia Arroyo involves pressing higher up the field. The forwards are expected to occupy the space around the opposition’s centre-backs and aggressively press to win the ball back in the opposition’s half.
A numerical overload on both the flanks can be seen as it helps the side to start the attack from wide areas and force the opposition into making a mistake in order to create a clear passing lane.
During the build-up, La Real set up in a 2–2–4–2 formation with 2 centre-backs in the backline. The side maintains a high line at the time of attack as well as stretches the whole field into attack from every channel.
Amaiur Sarriegi has a good eye for goals. In Natalia Arroyo’s system this season, she has mostly been deployed as a Right Winger in the 4–3–3 system to make those darting runs in behind the defensive line and has sometimes played as a striker alongside Finland international Sanni Franssi. La Real believe in vertical passing which leaves the opposition confused with two dilemmas – protect the centre or occupy the width.
Role of Iris
– Iris and Uria in a double pivot for more defensive cover allowing the fullbacks to drift in between the lines.
– While Amaiur is making runs in behind to create a numerical overload.
– Movement of Amaiur and her ball-carrying abilities in the wide position; using the strength for hold up play as well create space for Franssi; Uria finding apace through by splitting the Madrid CFF defense.
Here is an example:
Real Sociedad Femenino players were playing slightly away from each other and created multiple passing lanes to bypass the Real Madrid Femenino defense and the in behind runs were always performed by Sarriegi and Franssi.
La Real aimed to block the ball progression of Real Madrid Femenino from deep as Ivana Andres looked for passing lanes. La Real were successful in defending all passing channels.
While building from back there were several numerical overloads in Real Sociedad Femenino’s gameplay as they created 4 v1 situations at the time of build-up. The double-pivot of Irish and Gemma Gili added the extra pressure for Real Madrid’s build-up.
La Real’s plan for building from the back aimed to create numbers in the backline to drag out the opposition players and create space. High intense Pressing was observed which was done to block the opposition central zone and made it difficult to bypass and overload the central, freeing up the wide area.
Natalia Arroyo has done a tremendous job after taking over from Gonzalo Arconada. With the perfect balance of youth and experience, she is transforming La Real into a huge threat for the opposition. Natalia and her players are eager to achieve their dream of a UEFA Women’s Champions League spot. In the modern football system, player management is one of the most crucial parts and luckily, Real Sociedad have an astute manager Natalia Arroyo in their arsenal.
Written by Tamoghna Konar | Edited by Atanu Wadhwa |
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