Chelsea’s Newest Versatile Centerpiece: Catarina Macario
One of the most sensational and highly-anticipated transfers of the 2023-24 Women’s Super League (WSL) window is six-time WSL champion Chelsea signing a champion of their own: 23-year-old Catarina Macario. Chelsea signed Macario on a permanent transfer through 2026 from Olympique Lyonnais, where Macario helped Lyon claim their 15th domestic league title and eighth UEFA Women’s Champions League title.
Macario’s quality and versatility makes her a promising prospect for Chelsea, with many options for how she can be utilized within the existing, heavily-rotated system. As a central attacker, Macario is arguably at her most proficient as it suits her natural profile as a false nine: a deeper-lying hybrid between a playmaker and finisher.
On her own, Macario can create and finish in a variety of ways. With her former club, she often started or influenced sequences from deep in midfield by picking the pockets of opposition, winning aerial duels, shouldering off pressure, dribbling and surging forward. Macario could then rope in her surrounding teammates to advance the ball, or choose to shoot from virtually anywhere on the field. Macario’s technicality in finishing solidifies her as a striker, being able to finish from either side of the pitch, centrally, inside and outside the 18-yard box, off of corners, set-pieces, free kicks, volleys etc. with dazzling flair.
At Chelsea, Macario could feature as a solo striker or play behind Chelsea’s star finisher Sam Kerr and form a lethal attacking partnership. Macario playing in behind can ease the pressure off Kerr going forward and can also provide service when needed. Similarly, another partnership can be formed with exuberant signing, Mia Fishel. Fishel and Macario were teammates at the youth-level for the San Diego Surf, and reigniting that familiarity at the senior level could prove to be another potent combination for Chelsea.
Although Macario tends to be a central player, she has displayed comfort and proficiency as a wide forward. Thriving as a free-roaming player, Macario often occupies the entire attacking third with her movement and can interchange with other wide forwards. Macario possesses the vision and accuracy to deliver precise crosses on either side of the pitch, and decisive passing in attacking spaces.
Dribbling is another aspect of Macario’s style that lends to wide areas as she can eliminate defenders in one-on-one situations or relieve pressure when swarmed while maintaining possession. Shooting from wide areas and tight angles is also a honed skill for Macario as seen on display numerous times between club and country. Chelsea’s options for wide forwards are in stellar hands between the likes of Lauren James and Guro Reiten, so it is more likely that Macario will be featured playing off of them. Macario has not been utilized as a wide forward often, but can be slotted in when necessary depending on formations or player availability.
Playing a deeper role in midfield, Macario could also be featured as a No. 10 and lean more into the creative aspect of her game. As a No. 10, Macario has significant experience playing that role between her former club and country. A natural tendency to sit deeper and pull the strings for attacking momentum lends well to linking between the midfield and front line. Dribbling and scanning the terrain before placing perfectly-weighted passes forward is something Macario does with ease both freely and under pressure. In the spur of a counterattack, Macario can press higher and provide service to forwards or shoot when optimal.
In the defensive aspect of her game, Macario has shown growth through possession-oriented play. Macario maintains phenomenal ball control and keeps it close to her feet while dribbling or absorbing pressure. Successful disruption and individual marking displays Macario’s intelligence when reading the game and ensuring opponents are unable to build out from their midfield. A low center of gravity also allows Macario to keep her balance and composure when challenged or fouled.
As an individual, Macario could occupy a role similar to former Chelsea midfield maestro, Pernille Harder. In midfield, the best of Macario’s skillset is on display while also allowing room for Chelsea’s loaded attackers to thrive and maintain rotational balance.
It is yet to be determined whether Macario will feature in Chelsea’s season opener against Tottenham Hotspur on Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. EST, as she has not played since May 2022 due to a torn ACL. Promising signs of her return are plentiful as she traveled with the team for training in Portugal, and has been seen in training on Chelsea’s home grounds. The anticipation will be well worth the wait, as Macario aims to bring her success from France to her new home in London with Chelsea.