“Eye-catchingly quick”: Why “powerful” Lyon star Catarina Macario has been compared to Marta – scout report
Lyon Feminin’s 2020/2021 season was not one they will want to remember, with PSG Feminine beating them to the Division 1 Feminine title after 14 consecutive seasons at the top, whilst they were also knocked out of the Champions League by the same team at the quarter-final stage. However, 2021/2022 has been much better for them so far, with eight wins from eight league and European games, 36 goals scored and just one conceded. One player who is proving essential to their improved play is USA international Catarina Macario, who is regarded as one of the best players in women’s football at the present time. Some have described her as “eye-catchingly quick” around the field, whilst others are comparing her with Brazil legend Marta, which indicates just how highly-rated she is.
This tactical analysis will focus on Macario’s skills on the field, looking at her positioning, her ability to create options for her teammates, and her role in their link-up play. In doing so, the analysis will detail how she fits into both Lyon’s and the USA’s tactics, and why she has become a major player for both sides this season.
What makes clubs take notice of players is when they have a good positional and spatial understanding on the field, and Catarina Macario showed plenty of that whilst playing for Stanford University between 2017 and 2020. Since her arrival at Lyon Feminin in January 2021, her movement and ability to find spaces has helped them to play with an increased level of creativity, especially in the final third.
Macario generally operates in an attacking midfield role, combining with the striker to cause problems for opponents. In this image, both her and Melvine Malard have got into the box, with Malard now on the shoulder of the defensive line and Macario in the hole behind her. As a result of this, Benfica’s defenders are forced to hold their position, rather than closing Macario down, as Malard would then be unmarked behind them.
This situation shows the USA international’s awareness, as she knew that getting between the two defensive lines would give Lyon the advantage here, and a better chance of converting the opportunity. When she does receive the ball in these areas during games, she demonstrates plenty of confidence and an ability to get the ball out of her feet and yet still retain control of it. This type of skill is one reason that some have drawn comparisons between her and Marta.
Her natural pace and attacking instinct are two reasons for her freer role at Lyon this season, and she has been the focal point of their attack in many of their matches. Lyon like to stretch opponents out by making the pitch as big as possible, which creates gaps for the central attackers to exploit, and Macario is one of those players who moves into the gaps to create passing options in the central areas. In this game, against Dijon Feminine, she is the furthest player forwards and is in a position to turn and run behind the defence once her team look to pass forwards.
By holding her ground until the last minute, she retains the element of surprise, and the Dijon defenders have to keep guessing as to when she will make her move. Therefore, like against Benfica, Macario’s positioning is causing the defenders problems and influencing their defensive options. She has already netted nine times in all competitions this season, and it is not hard to see why when we consider the advanced positions she gets into. Therefore, having her as a forward option gives Lyon different ways of setting up tactically, which has been a major reason for their improvement this season.
When with the USA, who use a 4-3-3 formation the majority of the time, Macario tends to play in the midfield, with other forward options currently available to head coach Vlatko Andonovski, such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Christen Press. As a result, her role so far has been to feed balls into the forward line from the central areas, with this image highlighting the distance between her and the three forwards during games. Whilst this is a different job to the one she has at Lyon, her passing accuracy of 81% indicates that she can perform just as well in it, and her passes have helped the USA to create plenty of opportunities this season.
However, whilst she could be kept in this role in the short term, Andonovski has spoken openly about how her pace and threat makes her perfect for a role as a forward, most likely as a false nine, so it does seem likely that her creative midfield role with the national team is only temporary, and she is seen as a designated heir to the likes of Morgan, Press and the retiring Carli Lloyd.
Whilst Catarina Macario’s positioning around the pitch has been essential in Lyon’s revival this season, it only becomes effective when she uses the spaces she finds to create options for her teammates, as this next section of the scout report will show.
As previously mentioned, Lyon stretch their opponents out and force gaps to appear in their ranks. In this image, we can see how this comes about, with former PSG left-back Perle Morroni tight to the wing and in possession. The yellow lines illustrate the distance between the Lyon players, but this would still not have led to anything without Macario’s movement into the open space, as shown by the white arrow. As a result, Morroni now has two options, as she can either make a short pass into Macario or play a longer ball into the middle, where another Lyon player is positioned, and this second option has been made more viable by Macario drawing the nearest Montpellier Feminines defender towards her.
This ability to read the game and run into spaces early is another reason that she has been compared to Marta, as the Brazilian is known for always being a few steps ahead of her opponents. Macario’s run here had the same effect, as it gave Lyon options with the ball and allowed them to maintain their momentum, which has proven to be important in them breaking teams down this season.
When in the central areas, Macario operates as a playmaker, with teammates giving her passing options around the pitch. On this occasion, against Swedish side BK Hacken, Macario has positioned herself in open space just outside the goal area, and is now looking to pass the ball behind Hacken’s defensive line. Lyon have again stretched the defence out, with the two full-backs further away from the centre-backs, and two gaps have been created as a result.
However, Macario’s pass was not weighted correctly on this occasion, which meant that her teammate was unable to get on the end of it, and the attack ended. Whilst it is rare to see Macario make a mistake like this, there have been other times that good positioning has not been turned into a shot at goal, so this is something she can still improve on as her career progresses.
When with the USA, Macario creates options in different ways. Here, she is in a central position inside South Korea’s half, with the ball on the far side of the pitch. On initial viewing, it appears that Macario is the intended target for the cross, but this is not the case. Instead, Macario’s role is to draw the four players around her inside the pitch, creating more space for Arsenal Women’s Tobin Heath to receive the ball on the other wing. Therefore, Macario’s positioning has given her teammates options, as they can either pass to her or use her as a decoy, which is important in keeping opponents guessing.
The final area of Catarina Macario’s game to examine is her ability to link up play during matches. The fact that this happens in different areas of the field again highlights how the American can operate in different systems, having a key role in each one.
In this image, Macario is on the halfway line, having received the ball from the defence before turning to move it forwards. This looks really simple, but what is clever is the different things it enables involving other players. Firstly, her dropping back allows the full-backs to advance up the pitch and support the attacks, which is something left-backs Morroni and Selma Bacha do a lot of during matches. This is because Macario can sit back and protect the defence, in the event of a counter-attack. Secondly, the other midfielders are free to work with the forwards to create passing options higher up the field, without having to think about taking up a deeper position, as this is what the USA international has done for them.
Their summer recruitment was completed with options in forward areas a key consideration. Denmark striker Signe Bruun, who recently impressed on international duty, likes to be a focal point for her team, whilst Netherlands and ex-Arsenal Women player Danielle van de Donk tends to play in the half-spaces and create problems for defenders, which she has the freedom to do with Macario on the field. Therefore, when Macario moves into these spaces, she knows that there will always be someone ready to receive the ball, and it has helped Lyon to create more chances in the final third.
Having the ability to drop back is also important when Lyon are facing teams who set up to frustrate them, as Hacken did. Here, the defenders have made it difficult for Lyon to pass forwards, so Macario has moved towards the ball in order to receive the short pass from her teammate. As a result, the ball is still moving, making it harder for the defenders to isolate it and win back possession. However, it also gives Lyon options in possession that they may not have initially considered, because Macario has her back to goal and can see the majority of the pitch. Therefore, she can locate the best spaces to move the ball into, dictating play for her team, and helping to start an attack from another area of the field, where Hacken might be weaker.
This is made possible by Macario’s excellent range of passing. For Lyon, she tends to pass across greater distances, with a long pass accuracy of 66.7%, but the USA tend to play shorter, quicker passes in the middle, tempting opposing defenders towards the ball, before exploiting the space behind them. In this case, Macario and ex-Manchester City Women midfielder Rose Lavelle have teamed up to do just that, with the Paraguayan defenders coming towards them and out of position.
We have seen numerous examples this season of Macario playing short passes like this at speed for Lyon, creating opportunities for herself and others in the goal area. However, it is one of the key skills that she will need to be flawless with if she does play as a forward for the national side, as their midfielders come forward to combine with the strikers, like in this image, so having a good link-up ability will be essential.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has shown three key areas of Catarina Macario’s individual game, identifying why both Lyon and the USA have come to rely on her this season. She is quickly becoming a regular USA international, despite the calibre of player they already had in the side, and is a powerful player who will be a key part of their next generation. Domestically, she has been a leader at Lyon, organising others and always being alive to different situations, which is why she has been so dangerous to play against so far. When we consider that the French giants have some of the best players in the world on their books, Macario has done well to establish herself in the side at such an early stage in her career.
We must finish this analysis by looking at whether it is fair to compare her to Marta at such a young age. Firstly, whilst it is widely accepted that she will be a future star of American women’s football, given her obvious talent, she needs to be protected from any outside pressure put on her shoulders. We need to remember that she is still just 22 years old, so could be affected by too much attention on her, and she needs to be allowed to enjoy herself and play her game. However, her qualities are the same as Marta’s, so perhaps a better way of putting it would be that she has the same style of play and ability to read the game as the Brazil forward does, but it is maybe too early to say directly that she is on the same level as her.