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Martin Odegaard

Real Madrid to Arsenal, 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 his remarkable potential was ultimately never quite realised.

By the time of his move to Real. Odegaard had become the youngest player to appear and score in the Norwegian Premier League – he contributed five goals and seven assists in 23 appearances for Stromsgodset – but, following an impressive loan spell with Real Sociedad, he has struggled for regular first-team football at Real. Zinedine Zidane started and then substituted him in Real’s first two fixtures of 2020/21, after which he became peripheral and made only occasional appearances in central midfield, towards the right of their midfield, or as their number 10, leading to another loan move – this time to Arsenal, in the Premier League.

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 – by breaking lines, bypassing opponents, and ensuring that the teammate receiving it has the best chance of using it positively.

Similarly obvious is his intelligence and understanding of how to access his teammates in more advanced positions. 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 find them there.

His fluid movements complement 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 forwards in pursuit of a potential one-two. If forward passes aren’t available, he can remain in possession and attempt to advance through limited space through his dribbling (below); even if he is not remarkably fast, his balance and agility contribute to his ability to evade pressure.

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 ability to evade that pressure. Unlike Iniesta, however, Odegaard is predominantly one-footed, which can undermine his effectiveness, particularly towards the left. Through needing to turn towards his left foot, his options are reduced when on the left, 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
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, but in San Sebastián – where in 2019/20 he last played regular first-team football – he was given a more central position, most commonly as an attacking midfielder or secondary forward. Sociedad’s 4-3-3 was largely built to accommodate Mikel Merino and Odegaard, their two left-footed, attacking midfielders.

Towards the right of Sociedad’s structure, Odegaard often adopted a position at the deepest point of a rotating triangle (below); their right-back Joseba Zaldua attempted to overlap around their opponents, and their right-sided attacker – often Adnan Januzaj ­– drifted infield to create the spaces Zaldua relished attacking. Odegaard’s abilities provided the penetrative element in that combination. His passing range was capable of accessing the many options in front of him, and of providing the link into the final third.

The variety he offered also meant that he was invited to advance. If Zaldua’s movements were stopped, those from Januzaj were capable of creating space for Odegaard to drive forward into, with or without possession; it was in combination with Januzaj that he best contributed to Sociedad overcoming a defensive block. When their left-back Nacho Monreal advanced, Illarramendi, playing as their defensive midfielder, adopted a role towards the left similar to Odegaard’s; Merino offered them defensive protection, in turn freeing up Odegaard to be the one to make penetrative, forward runs.

During an 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 in the right inside channel. Through adopting that role he received the ball in bigger spaces and capitalised by driving forwards with the ball, creating more from positions between the lines, instead of operating as a deeper-positioned ball-player. That forward momentum meant him attacking spaces towards the edge of and inside the penalty area, increasing his threat on goal, particularly during moments of transition.

Martin Odegaard

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