After spending 12 years at his youth club, on 5 July 2018, Real Madrid reached an agreement with Real Sociedad for the transfer of Alvaro Odriozola. The 22-year-old right-back made his senior level debut on 16th January 2017 with Real Sociedad and since then has gone on to impress and showcase a sublime run in his career.
Within a span of 18 months, the Spaniard has played in the Segunda B division, La Liga, Europa League, Champions League and for the Spanish National Team. Odriozola is one of the fastest youngsters in the game much like his career, which he describes as similar to the script of a film.
Odriozola has been picked to be the perfect replacement for Daniel Carvajal, who turns 27 in January. Moreover, since he seldom suffers from minor injuries.
Let’s analyse how Odriozola can fit into Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid, giving Dani Carvajal the much-needed breaks he deserves at regular intervals.
Odriozola so far:
Odriozola debuted against RCD Espanyol on 22nd September 2018 shortly after recovering from his abductor injury which resulted in the narrow 1-0 win against the visitors.
Debut games are generally not easy for youngsters. The existing players take time to get used to the style of the new player and thus as seen above against Espanyol, the gameplay was usually from the left-hand side of the pitch rather than the centre. Though, Odriozola was slightly isolated and did not see much of the ball at whichever position he received the ball. He was very composed with it which is not an easy task during your debut match at home. Forward sprints, clean, neat tackles, a noticeable vision of the ball and quick fall-backs were the highlights of his game.
Whereas, compared to the game away to Deportivo Alaves, there is a remarkable change in the linkup between the players.
While Nacho combined with Kroos on the left and Ceballos played in the centre, Odriozola made a comfortable connection with Luka Modric. Even though Los Blancos lost the match, Odriozola surely impressed everyone covering up the right flank entirely. In fact, his linkups with Modric were so effective that most of the chances attempted were from his side of the pitch. Noticing this, Julen Lopetegui made sure that Modric and Odriozola received a lot of service of the ball in the second half. Despite the result, those attacking stints were much better than any other in the last couple of matches for Real Madrid.
The Lopetegui Connection:
In the last few seasons, Real Madrid have built a core of talented youngsters in the team dominated by Spanish youngsters. Having worked with the Spanish National Youth teams as well as the senior side, this suits Lopetegui perfectly. Therefore, he knows the right method to helping develop young prospects.
In terms of bringing the best out of players, working for the national side is actually harder than domestic sides. the limited amount of time spent on the training pitch only during international breaks poses big challenges for the national team coaches to transmit tactical ideas and to build up an understanding between the players. Whereas, having an entire pre-season with the players gives them much more time.
During his term as the manager of the Spanish National team, Julen Lopetegui promoted Odriozola from the U-21 side to the senior team having played only for six months in the junior side. To train under a familiar figure, it will certainly help Odriozola adjust and gives him a higher chance of succeeding.
The typical Real Madrid full-back:
In a general Real Madrid attack, the full-backs are key in creating overlaps and providing deep runs to break down the opposition in wide areas. Stretching the opposition and circulating possession quickly from one flank to the other is an effective way to create openings between the midfield and the defence, forcing the opposition to commit mistakes and gaining man advantages.
Counter attacks have proved fatal for this Real Madrid side. But these have been mostly from the left flank. Odriozola’s pace helps him to track an opponent whatever advantage the opponent might have over him. In some cases, when Odriozola is not able to fall back in time, the holding centre-back (usually Varane) uses his pace to track down the opponent, while Odriozola glides into the centre-back position inside the six-yard box.
After Danilo’s departure last season, Real were left with Carvajal and the inexperienced Achraf Hakimi as full-backs while Nacho played at almost all defensive positions that a team can ever have.
Carvajal’s career-threatening heart syndrome was discovered at the beginning of the season leaving Zinedine Zidane with the option of playing the 19-year-old Hakimi or Nacho, who did not favour the right-back position.
Zidane did an absolutely wonderful job at winning three consecutive Champions League titles but fell short on defending the Domestic Title which Real won after a wait of seven long years. Hakimi was regularly beaten on the flanks while Carvajal was overworked, which forced him off the field yet again in the Champions League Final. When the stakes are so high, such obstacles deny the team from cruising comfortably through a match.
Dani Carvajal has to be replaced by an equally talented and experienced right-back and signing Odriozola in the summer has written-off that part of the problem for Real Madrid, thus giving Julen Lopetegui a chance to win back the title from Real’s arch-rivals.
Carvajal and Odriozola equally have their strengths and weaknesses.
As seen from the images, Carvajal is better defensively whereas Odriozola is better at offence. Two fitting full-backs with similar styles of play but different sets of strength and weaknesses gives Lopetegui more freedom to explore and experiment with different tactics.
Discipline and Injuries:
Odriozola’s on-field discipline has been remarkable. He has never been given a straight red in his career and hardly saw any yellow cards in his direction.
Last season, against Las Palmas, he saw a second yellow which was wrongly shown to Odriozola for diving. Real Sociedad won the appeal which resulted in Odriozola playing the next match against Atletico Madrid.
He also holds a very limited history of injuries. In his entire career which includes youth and senior level, he has missed out on just half a dozen games, being injured just thrice. These are his stats for the season 17/18 in La Liga for Real Sociedad :
Squad: 36 games
Starting eleven: 32 games
Substituted in: Three times
On the bench: One time
Suspended: 0 times
Injured: Two times
Winning just two league titles in the last decade has put a lot of pressure on president Florentino Perez and Julen Lopetegui. Even though the Champions League trophy is probably the toughest trophy that can be won, Real Madrid have to shift their focus on winning the domestic titles too.
A talented squad with a handful of experienced players to motivate and inspire the youngsters, Real Madrid show a promising future and a perfect balance. Even though this season has started on a rocky road, Odriozola has continued to put up top-notch performances, be it in La Liga or the Champions League.
At a tender age of 22, not many get an opportunity to start ahead of an experienced player such as Carvajal. But Odriozola has what it requires to get in ahead of a very talented senior.