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Modric rises to Odegaard’s challenge, Pique juggles roles

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A glimpse of the player who could one day take his place at Real Madrid appeared to inspire Luka Modric to his best performance of the season. The 34-year-old Modric has only played 10 of Real Madrid’s 18 matches this campaign, making just five starts partly due to injury. But it was Modric who led Madrid from behind to a 3-1 victory at home on Saturday against a Real Sociedad side that had run rampant for the first half hour.

Sociedad’s attack was piloted by 20-year-old Martin Odegaard, a Norwegian standout who signed for Madrid almost five years ago. After improving on loan at smaller clubs, Odegaard has grown into one of the Spanish league’s top playmakers at Sociedad this season.

Odegaard looks ready to soon return to Madrid, and be employed in a creative role like the one that has been owned by Modric for several very successful seasons. Odegaard did not disappoint on his first visit to the Santiago Bernabeu as an opposing player. He and his teammates struck early and were repeatedly breaking the hosts’ attempts to press with their speed and crisp passing.

That was until Modric began to play like the Ballon d’Or winner he is. The Croatia star provided a cross for Karim Benzema to level the score and energize Madrid. Next came Modric’s pass for Federico Valverde to give Madrid the lead.

Then, not to be outdone, Modric put the game beyond reach when he smashed in a third goal to finish Sociedad off. His resurgence after his most lackluster start to a season since joining Madrid seven years ago comes just at the right time.

On Tuesday Madrid hosts a Paris Saint-Germain side that routed the Spanish club 3-0 in September. Modric missed that match due to injury. As for Odegaard, his current coach thinks he has more to offer.

“He was missing that final pass, that shot. Normally his shot is more precise,” said Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil. “But I don’t think it was because he was overwhelmed by the match.” FROM FIELD TO COURT

Gerard Pique has been an extremely busy man, juggling his commitments as a player for Barcelona with a leading role at the new-look Davis Cup Finals tournament. Piqué is a co-founder of the Kosmos group behind the competition.

Pique has gone back and forth between Barcelona and Madrid this week. Conveniently for Pique, his match on Saturday was at Leganés in the Spanish capital. After playing in Barcelona’s 2-1 victory, he zipped over to the Caja Mágica sports complex in time to catch Spain beat Britain in the semifinals.

“I spoke with my (Barcelona) coach (Ernesto Valverde), but it was a friendly chat. He asked me what my plans were for this week and how we were going to handle things,” Pique said Saturday. “My relationship with my coach is phenomenal. My relationship with the club is good, the rest is just noise…

“What you do off the pitch is your private life. My duty is to play and do it the best I can.” VITAL VIDAL Many Barcelona fans were puzzled when the club signed Arturo Vidal two summers ago. His profile of an aggressive tackler with more fight than finesse was in stark contrast to the model Barcelona midfielder — with the light touch and ball possession skills shown by former greats Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta.

But the former Bayern Munch and Juventus bruiser has become a key role player for Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, providing goals from the bench and a competitive spirit that his teammates have lacked at critical moments.

Vidal again showed his instinct to get in the box and look to score on Saturday when he came on as a substitute with Barcelona struggling at last-place Leganés. Vidal was in the right place to poach a poor clearance and snatch a win which kept Barcelona in the league lead.

That was his fourth goal of the season, the same number forward Antoine Griezmann has scored while playing more than double Vidal’s minutes. “These are the wins that mean titles,” Vidal said.

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