Our young Norwegian prodigy will be thrust into the spotlight on Saturday evening. The lights from Valencia’s Mestalla stadium will be shining down as 20-year-old Martin Ødegaard finally gets to strut his stuff in La Liga. Life has brought young Martin to San Sebastian, or as the locals call it Donostia, in the Basque region of Spain to showcase his talents. Despite the incredible beaches, delicious pintxos (small quick bites, almost every restaurant and bar have on display), and gorgeous mountain backdrops, Ødegaard will be focused on one thing; showing Real Sociedad, the Spanish public, Real Madrid, and the world as a whole, that he’s ready for this next step.
The Norwegian has always been recognized for the maturity he possesses. There have been stories that suggest at just 16 years old, hours after being presented by Real Madrid, Ødegaard was spotted running on the treadmill late in the evening, around midnight, having not had the opportunity to work out that day. The press lauded him as the “next big thing” and then a few years later, at only 18, labeled him as a flop — neither the praise nor the criticism have deterred or distracted his steady mindset. Along with his father, Martin has made calculated decisions to ensure his incremental growth season after season. Each year has built on the last, but he now awaits his biggest test and the question most fans are wondering is, what should we expect from Ødegaard and this new look Real Sociedad squad?
In March 2018, Real Sociedad appointed former player and coach, Roberto Olabe, as their sporting director. Olabe, and club president, Jokin Aperribay, are now embarking on their most ambitious project yet. This summer they spent close to €20 million euros to sign Scandinavian teenage striker, Isak, from Dortmund and scrappy attacking midfielder, Portu, from Girona. Alongside the two attackers, Sagnan, a center back from Ligue 2 side Lens was purchased. And finally, Ødegaard, was signed on loan for a period of two years. These new arrivals, coupled with the majority of first team players remaining, such as, Adnan Januzaj, Willian Jose, and marquee man Mikel Oyarzabal, means the team has a formidable front line. Once Asier Illaramendi, Mikel Merino, U21 Champion Zubeldia, and Ruben Pardo form part of the mix, Sociedad will begin to shoulder larger expectations. Anything less than a European spot this season would be labeled a failure.
The tough task for Coach Imanol Alguacil will be finding the right system and selecting the best personnel from the aforementioned names. There is no guarantee that Ødegaard starts this Saturday, but using Sociedad’s preseason matches as a benchmark, we can forecast Alguacil’s potential team selections. Ødegaard has started the majority of their preseason matches and has played centrally in an advanced number 10 role. This is arguably Martin’s most natural position although he has featured on the right wing for most of his time at Madrid and abroad.
In preseason, Ødegaard has not looked out of place. His speed of thought and quick touch means he can rapidly adapt to a higher level of play. He’s looked just like the Ødegaard we saw last last season for Vitesse – confident and decisive in the final third, eager to get on the ball, and relentless in his pressing off the ball. He has the freedom to drift out wide from his central position, but Alguacil see’s him as the funnel to connect the midfield pivot to the offensive strike force. Expect to see Ødegaard operating between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines and exploiting their weak points with his unique vision. Given the preseason, Alguacil may roll out the following lineup on opening day:
Though, against an opposition like Valencia, Alguacil could roll out a slightly more defensive line up with a 4-3-3 made up of Illaramendi, Merino, and Zubeldia in the midfield. If so, Ødegaard could be pushed to the right wing or even to the bench. It will be interesting to see how Alguacil shuffles his midfield and attacking options. In one of the last matches of preseason, Sociedad played in a 4-4-2, allowing them to start both Willian Jose and Isak up top. Ødegaard started in the right midfield position and was tasked with greater defensive responsibility than usual. There were a few times he failed to track his marker and there were moments where he struggled to compete in a physical 50/50 challenge. That defensive phase of the game can be an area of improvement, epecially in a midfield four.
Overall, La Real should be a good landing spot for Martin, but if he does not perform, there will be many in the squad quick to jump on his position. In order to secure a return to Real Madrid, Ødegaard will not only need to become a pivotal player for Soceidad, but one of the best in La Liga over the next two seasons. That pressure is something he has shouldered for years and will not daunt him as he looks to produce his aesthetically pleasing football for all of La Liga and it’s followers.