Spain's most competitive title race in decades returns, with on-loan Real Madrid starlet Martin Odegaard's return with Real Sociedad the highlight.
LaLiga returns this weekend with the title race hotting up; more thrills and spills are sure to come as the most competitive LaLiga table in decades currently has just two points separating the top five clubs, while local pride and much more will be on the line as four of LaLiga’s five Basque clubs come together on Sunday.
The pick of the games sees Martin Odegaard returns to the Santiago Bernabeu on November 23rd as his Real Sociedad side challenge Real Madrid. When he takes to the pitch, 1,645 days – or four and a half years exactly – will have passed since his last appearance there. That came on May 23rd 2015, when he came on as a 16-year-old in a 7-3 Real Madrid victory over Getafe in LaLiga.
Since then, Odegaard has continued his development with Castilla, Real Madrid’s B team, and out on loan in the Netherlands with Heerenveen and Vitesse between 2016 and 2019. As a result of his eye-catching displays while in the Eredivisie, especially during his latest stint with Vitesse, Odegaard was one of the most appealing targets during the 2019 summer transfer window, with Real Sociedad winning the race to pick him up on a two-year loan.
It was the style of play and the ambitious project at Real Sociedad that convinced the playmaker to move to San Sebastián. These are exciting times at the Txuri-Urdin, who also secured the high-profile additions of Nacho Monreal, Portu and Alexander Isak during the summer to add to existing stars like Mikel Oyarzabal and Willian José. But it’s Odegaard who is perhaps the most interesting pieces of this puzzle.
So far, the 2019/20 season has gone wonderfully for La Real as a team and for Odegaard on an individual level. The team are fifth in table and currently meeting their explicit objective of qualifying for European competition this season; they even spent part of Matchday 12 as outright leaders. Odegaard, meanwhile, picked up the LaLiga September Player of the Month award for his outstanding performances. In total, he has two goals and three assists in the league this season, but that doesn’t even tell the whole story. His influence has been even greater, with his sublime passing vision in attacking midfield making this entire team tick.
Now he’ll be trying to unpick Real Madrid’s defence, one of the best back lines in the world. As he recently explained on sports radio, he is aware of how significant a fixture this is for him. “It will be special for me to face Real Madrid,” he said. “I still have friends there and I talk to some of them. I always watch their games whenever I can.”
The ultimate goal for the 20-year-old is to one day make it at Real Madrid, a club whose first team is coached by Zinedine Zidane, a coach Odegaard worked with at Castilla. In fact, it was Zidane who gave the young Norwegian his debut with Castilla, on February 8th 2015 vs Athletic Club’s youth side. What’s more, the Frenchman was the first coach to place Odegaard on the right flank as opposed to in the middle of the park where he had usually played until then. The change marked him: it would be from the right where he’d make such an impact in Dutch football and where he still drifts playing now for La Real.
For now, though, despite being just at the Reale Arena on loan he is fully focused on Real Sociedad and determined to lead them back to European competition. After a brief injury layoff, the youngster is set for a comeback and ready to make an impact. He has matured a lot in the four and a half years since his last outing at the Bernabeu. On Saturday night, just how much he has developed will become clear.
The action begins Friday night at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium where hosts Levante UD beat Barcelona in their last home game, welcoming an RCD Mallorca side capable of defeating Real Madrid at home but yet to pick up even one point away from their Son Moix stadium.
Saturday’s programme begins with a top vs bottom clash as co-leaders FC Barcelona, who have had an up and down time away from the Camp Nou this season, visit a CD Leganes team with just one win so far in 2019/20 but who did win this fixture 2-1 last year.
Next up is a Real Betis side whose players and fans have had a fortnight's international break to dwell on their derby defeat to Sevilla before hosting Valencia CF, who have climbed to sixth in the table having kicked into form in recent weeks.
Three straight LaLiga Santander losses have seen Granada CF dip a little after such a high-flying start, so they will be fired up to welcome third-placed Atletico de Madrid, who have Portuguese starlet Joao Felix back after a month out injured.
Saturday evening’s late clash should be a cracker, as Real Madrid host Real Sociedad in a clash of two teams full of exciting talents hitting form. Many eyes will be on the visitors’ fit again playmaker Martin Odegaard – who is on loan from Real Madrid – going to head to head with Los Blancos new midfield star Fede Valverde.
Sunday’s action starts with 19th placed RCD Espanyol hoping the international break will have changed their fortunes when they host Getafe CF, who have steadily climbed the table with just one defeat in their last five league games.
The action then shifts to Pamplona, with CA Osasuna hosting local rivals Athletic Club in what is likely to be a typically tight and passionate derby match-up. Los Rojillos are 31 games unbeaten at El Sadar but Los Leones won 2-1 on their last visit, with Pamplona native Iñaki Williams among the scorers.
Another all-Basque clash quickly follows with SD Eibar hosting their neighbours D. Alaves – who hail from the city of Vitoria jut 50km away – with another tight encounter on the cards given their three LaLiga meetings to date at Ipurua having brought one win each and a draw.
New RC Celta coach Oscar Garcia, who impressed with his tactical ideas on his debut last time out at Barcelona, will be challenged again on Sunday as the Galicians visit high-scoring but unpredictable Villarreal.
Sunday’s final game sees a highly-organised Real Valladolid team still unbeaten in their five games at their Estadio Jose Zorilla so far hosting Sevilla FC, who travel with the joint-best away record in LaLiga Santander with 13 points from seven away games in 2019/20
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