Real Madrid‘s loss to Athletic Bilbao in the semi-finals of the Supercopa de España has put Zinedine Zidane’s decisions under the scanner. His stubborn nature when it comes to the playing XI has led almost the same eleven players to start every game for the past few weeks, and that has seen Martin Ødegaard being overlooked, even from the bench.
Ever since Real Madrid’s 2-0 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk on 30th November, the last time Martin Ødegaard played for the team, Los Blancos have played 10 games. The Norwegian has missed two games out of those ten while being on the bench for the remaining eight games. Shockingly, he hasn’t played a single second during those eight games, remaining an unused substitute.
What makes this even harder to digest is that he was recalled by Zidane ahead of the season, cutting short the playmaker’s loan stint at Real Sociedad. His lack of minutes has certainly caused a lot of noise in the media, although Zidane, as well as senior players like Luka Modrić, have spoken about the player highly in the press.
The issue of youngsters not getting enough minutes has already seen Zidane face the heat from a section of the Spanish media that is merciless. Luka Jović returned to his former club Eintracht Frankfurt on loan for the remainder of the season due to a severe lack of playing time (he had a memorable return to Deutsche Bank Park, scoring a brace). There were rumours of Ødegaard being loaned out as well.
Martin Ødegaard has the lowest minutes of any Real Madrid midfielder
Zidane did find consistency, both in the results and in the playing XI, as Real Madrid went on a six-match winning streak following the 2-0 loss to Shakhtar. Since then, almost the same set of players have featured in the starting XI.
Even though the lack of playing time had already become a glaring issue, the unacceptable 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de España in the semi-finals had put a magnifying glass on the situation. The inability, or rather, the unwillingness of Zidane to rotate his team and integrate the fringe players in the setup saw him receive severe backlash as the players gave in to fatigue and failed to get past the Athletic hurdle.
Let’s compare Ødegaard’s minutes with other midfielders from the team (as per FBRef.com).
NOTE: Casemiro hasn’t been included as he is a defensive midfielder.
Player Appearances (Starts) Minutes
Martin Ødegaard 9 (5) 367
Luka Modrić 23 (19) 1656
Toni Kroos 23 (19) 1635
Isco 12 (3) 379
Fede Valverde 18 (11) 1012
As the table suggests, Martin Ødegaard has played the least amount of minutes and made the least number of appearances out of all the midfielders, even fewer than Isco, who seems closer to a Real Madrid exit with every passing day.
For a player who was the best midfielder in the league last season, he has disappeared out of the spotlight and is no longer one of the first names when La Liga’s best midfielders are talked about. The reason behind Ødegaard’s revival as one of the brightest young talents on the planet was his significant playing time. It was a starring role at every club he played on loan that helped him bring his career back on track. From being labeled a Real Madrid flop to being recalled by Zidane himself, Ødegaard has overseen a journey full of hardships and unwavering spirit.
The second half of the season will see Real Madrid fight on three fronts: La Liga, UEFA Champions League, and Copa del Rey. Ødegaard will surely start against Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey Round of 32, and I think the best way to utilize him would be to play him against teams that field a low-block in the league. He was a handful for Inter Milan as a central attacking midfielder, so all he needs is continuity.
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His ingenuity and eagle-eyed vision can pierce the most impenetrable of defences, and all Zidane needs to do is come up with the right plan to unleash the playmaking beast that is craving to go all guns blazing in a shirt he is determined to succeed in.