Real Madrid: Will Antonio Blanco get a chance after Martin Ødegaard’s loan?

Real Madrid, Antonio Blanco (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Antonio Blanco (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images) /

Martin Ødegaard‘s move to Arsenal on a six-month loan deal is finally official. This leaves Real Madrid with only five first-team midfielders. Out of those five, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Fede Valverde are central midfielders, Isco is an attacking midfielder, and Casemiro is the sole defensive midfielder.

Though Real Madrid had six midfielders in their ranks till January, the midfield was always an unbalanced one. Zinedine Zidane prioritized a 4-3-3 formation and the fact that Casemiro had no proper backup in the squad meant that he had to play every game when he was fit and available.

To add to that, Ødegaard and Isco are primarily attacking midfielders, and they are not suited to a more central role, which demands a lot of defensive discipline. To keep it simple, Martin Ødegaard was more of a  replacement for James Rodriguez, a player who supposedly didn’t fit into Zidane’s schemes.

Ødegaard is being labeled as impatient by many people including the legendary Jorge Valdano, but it would be unfair to call someone who had waited five years to make it to Real Madrid as an impatient person. But who knows, maybe he should’ve been a bit more patient. Zidane’s lack of rotations, questionable selections, and his greater faith in Isco can be criticized, but at the same time, we need to remember that Zidane had to save his job, and he had to play his best XI in each game to grind results.

What’s done cannot be undone and now the Real Madrid midfield is unbalanced and undermanned at the same time. With Fede Valverde suffering from an adductor injury, Real Madrid is left with just four midfielders in the first team. With the club looking to save funds for big signings in the future, the only place where they will find a solution is Real Madrid Castilla, the B-team. And they might have found a replacement in Antonio Blanco, Castilla’s defensive midfielder.

According to the highly-reliable Spanish journalist Arancha Rodriguez, Antonio Blanco might be Ødegaard’s replacement in the first team, as relayed by The Madrid Zone on Twitter.

Antonio Blanco – The much-hyped La Fabrica product

The young Spaniard joined the Cantera at the age of 13 but caught some attention after he was seen in the 2020/21 kit release photoshoot, representing Castilla. His name wasn’t considered much by the club for the role of a backup defensive midfielder, and they were interested more in Eduardo Camavinga. And Blanco didn’t have a great season in 2019/20, so he was relatively unknown at that point in time.

More from The Real Champs

But Blanco soon rose to fame after Juvenil-A’s successful UEFA Youth League campaign. He was an integral part of Raul’s title-winning side and he was one of the best performers in the 2019/20 knockout stages held in Nyon, Switzerland. He formed a solid double pivot with Ivan Morante, another talented Castilla midfielder.

He was immediately called up by Zinedine Zidane to train with the first team during the pre-season, along with a few of his teammates. And few reports had suggested that Zinedine Zidane was impressed by Blanco, and there are chances of Blanco being promoted to the first team.

Those reports sounded exciting, but with time everyone forgot Blanco’s name as Zidane didn’t call him up for any official first-team game. In fact, his Castilla teammate Sergio Arribas got more opportunities as an attacking midfielder, but Blanco was never considered in 2020, despite Casemiro missing some games due to COVID-19 and suspension. He was occasionally seen in the training sessions, but there weren’t any signs of a first-team call-up.

But he finally made it to the first team for the Alcoyano and Alaves games, as Odegaard was unavailable due to his negotiations with Arsenal, Modric was rested for the Copa Del Rey game and with Valverde missing out against Alaves due to injury. He didn’t get any minutes to make his debut, but his call-up had shown that he was there in the plans.

Antonio Blanco is a terrific player with the ball at his feet

The 20-year-old midfielder is 176 cm tall, and he isn’t that strong for a player who has to be the backup for arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world, but that doesn’t stop him from being effective. He is an intelligent player who knows how to position himself properly in transition, and he knows how to win back the ball effortlessly. His tackling is decent though it isn’t as good as Casemiro. And he is usually found in the best position to intercept the ball.

But the best part of his gameplay is his involvement with the ball at his feet. He is a fantastic passer with an eagle-eyed vision. He knows how to make those ‘line-breaking passes’. His long passes are accurate, and he often tends to control the game and spread the play.

He can make the right pass under pressure, and he can bring the ball out of pressure by himself with some great touches. He’s quite aggressive in attack, and always has an eye for the shortest route to goal. His crossing is fine, and overall he is mature with the ball at his feet. He isn’t an energetic ball carrier like Fede Valverde, but he is decent in ball progression.

He can improve his shooting, and he might have to focus more on his physique and the defensive part of his game, but he is a player who can excite people. He is different from Casemiro, and he isn’t the perfect Casemiro replacement, but he can offer something in offense which Casemiro can’t.

But, can Antonio Blanco be successful with the Real Madrid first team?

First and foremost, Blanco’s promotion to the first team can add to the balance of the midfield and Casemiro might finally have a backup after Llorente’s departure. Blanco is talented and he has shown a lot of character in his stint with Castilla. He is a leader, and he had captained a few of Castilla’s games in Segunda B.

But there might be some issues which might be against him. He is used to playing in a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 for Castilla, but Zidane uses a sole pivot in his 4-3-3. His gameplay is different from Casemiro’s and he might have to make some minor adjustments to prove to his manager that he can play as a single pivot.

Another issue is that Zidane might not use Blanco unless he feels that Casemiro needs some rest or if Casemiro is injured. Casemiro is one of the fittest players in the squad, and he isn’t the guy who would prefer to rest when each game is a do-or-die game for the team.

If Blanco wants to have more opportunities, he should try to win over Zidane as soon as possible, and if possible he should try to prove that he can play as a central midfielder as well. Another thing to remember is that Raul’s need of having Blanco in his starting XI of Castilla is more important than Zidane’s need of having him sit on the bench, given how Castilla is struggling in Segunda B’s new format.

This is Blanco’s second season at Castilla, and he might leave on loan be sold if he doesn’t get a first-team opportunity. Blanco might not get many opportunities as a starter, but he needs to give his hundred percent to make sure that he should be considered as a contender for that backup DM role.

Next. Analyzing Real Madrid's attacking trio. dark

Zidane used a Kroos-Modric double pivot with Odegaard ahead of them when Casemiro was unavailable. But Ødegaard’s departure has opened up a rare opportunity for Blanco, who should try to make the most of it. Ødegaard might want to permanently move away from Madrid, which could be his loss, but Blanco has an opportunity here to make it count.