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Martin Odegaard

Real Madrid to Real Sociedad, loan

Norway’s Martin Odegaard was only 16 when, in January 2015, he joined then-European champions Real Madrid from Stromgodset for a reported fee of £2.3m. Drawing comparisons with Lionel Messi, he had regardless taken what was perceived to be a risk – Sergio Canales was similarly once considered one of the world’s most promising young talents but, upon moving to the Santiago Bernabéu, his career stalled and he ultimately never quite fulfilled his remarkable potential.

Odegaard first appeared for Real Madrid Castilla, the ‘B’ team then coached by Zinedine Zidane, who has since started his second spell as the most decorated of club’s senior manager. Carlo Ancelotti, who then held that very position, said at the time of his arrival: “He is a kid with talent and personality.” Odegaard had by then become the youngest player to appear and score in the Norwegian Premier League – he scored five goals and contributed seven assists in 23 appearances for Stromsgodset – and will be competing for selection at the Bernabéu once he has returned from his loan spell at Liga rivals Real Sociedad, where he has so far impressed.

Tactical analysis
Odegaard is particularly forward-thinking when in possession. At every possible occasion he attempts to advance the ball – usually via his impressively accurate, incisive passing – breaking lines, bypassing opponents, and ensuring the teammate receiving it has the best chance of using it positively.

Similarly obvious is his on-field intelligence and understanding of how to access the supporting movements his teammates are offering. The timing of his release encourages those teammates to adopt the most effective position in which to receive the ball, secure in the knowledge that Odegaard’s composure means that he is likely to feed them there.

That the Norwegian’s movements are so fluid complements both the momentum that comes with his passing, and the energy with which he attempts to play. Odegaard recognises when to withdraw after playing a pass, in preparation for it to perhaps be laid off to him, or when to continue running forward in pursuit of a potential one-two. If forward passes aren’t available he can remain in possession and advance through limited spaces (below); even if he is not remarkably fast, his balance and agility contribute to his ability to evade pressure, both with and without possession.

Similarly, if a suitable option isn’t available ahead of him, he is capable of turning and resetting possession, often towards his own goal; if under particularly intense pressure, as the great Andrés Iniesta once so often did for Barcelona and Spain, he possesses the flair to evade that pressure. Unlike Iniesta, however, Odegaard is predominantly one-footed, which can undermine his effectiveness, particularly towards the left side of the pitch. If he needs to turn towards his left foot his options are reduced, and his body shape can also restrict him from accessing large areas of the pitch, leaving him reliant on his teammates’ support.

Role at Real Sociedad
Even if while on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, Odegaard demonstrated his potential from the right of a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation, in San Sebastián he has adopted a more central position, most commonly as an attacking midfielder or secondary forward. Sociedad’s 4-3-3 is largely built on Mikel Merino and Odegaard, their two left-footed, attacking midfielders.

Towards the right of Sociedad’s structure, Odegaard often adopts the deepest point of a rotating triangle (below); right-back Joseba Zaldua attempts to overlap around their opponents’ shape, and the right-sided attacker – often Adnan Januzaj ­– drifts inside to create the spaces Zaldua relishes. Odegaard’s abilities provide the penetrative element within that combination. His passing range is capable of feeding the many options in front of him, and of providing the link into the final third.

The variety he offers also means that he is invited to advance. If Zaldua’s movements are negated, those from Januzaj are capable of creating spaces for Odegaard to drive forward, with or without possession; it is in combination with Januzaj that he has contributed to Sociedad overcoming a defensive block. If left-back Nacho Monreal advances, Illarramendi, playing as their defensive midfielder, adopts a role towards the left similar to Odegaard’s; Merino offers them the defensive protection they require, freeing up Odegaard to be the one making penetrative runs.

During their impressive 2-0 victory over Atlético Madrid he particularly impressed as a secondary forward when, for all that his role demanded an even more central starting position, he continued to offer a consistent presence within the right inside channel. Through adopting that role he received possession in increased spaces and capitalised by driving forwards with the ball and creating more from combinations between the lines, instead of operating as a deeper-positioned ball-player. The forward momentum that involved meant him attacking spaces inside and towards the edge of the penalty area, and continuing his forward runs – particularly during moments of transition.

Martin Odegaard

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