Isco has become an enigma in recent months and years. The Spaniard’s talent has never come under question at all. His performances have always been crucial to Real Madrid’s successes over the seasons, but things have been changing. The tides have been shifting and Isco is seemingly not as important as he once was.

Last year’s time under Santiago Solari was not a pretty one. Under a manager who wanted tactical rigidity, Isco would never play regularly. For a player who likes to float about in the final third, it never worked in his favour.

Last season, he had only 11 starts to his name in the La Liga. He made only four appearances in the Champions League too, and he had a direct hand in just six goals in all competitions. That is never a pretty sight for a player like Isco.

His inconsistencies can be highlighted by the recent showing against Valencia. Real were held to a 1-1 draw, as they couldn’t climb back up to the top of the La Liga. In the game, Isco was starting as the left-winger in a 4-3-3 shape.

And it was a poor showing by all means. The former Malaga sensation couldn’t create a single chance and couldn’t pick out a single key pass. He was dispossessed twice, getting dribbled past just as many times for the Mestalla-based side.

Numbers like that are very rare for Isco. But it is in stark contrast to the Deportivo game. Real won 2-1 and Isco was crucial. He didn’t complete a single key-pass, but he had two successful dribbles and three tackles to his name. It wasn’t as poor a performance as the Valencia one.

He did well against Brugge as well. He completed one key pass, completing four dribbles as well. He won two tackles and made as many interceptions. It was a performance of promise. A one that somewhat showed some qualities that he has.

Isco was never someone who would play too many key passes anyway. The highest number of key passes per game he played was in the 2013-14 campaign. That number stood at 2.2 back then. Since then, those numbers have been coming down and he has become more about quality than quantity of those creations.

Perhaps, it was bound to happen. Him playing as low as 0.9 key passes per game was coming if the downfall in productivity has to be traced. And he isn’t as good a player he has always been. Especially during those golden spells around 2016 and 2017. Times have been moving on.

It can well be said that the game too is moving on from Isco. He was never a bundle of pace and neither was he too physical. The game has become quicker and more physical. And possibly, Isco hasn’t been up to that level.

But there could yet be a future for him at Real. He did well in Real’s 2-2 draw against Paris Saint-Germain, playing in the number ten position. But it was more like Isco from his better times. He was playing in a 4-3-1-2 behind a quick forward and Karim Benzema. It was Cristiano Ronaldo then. It is Eden Hazard now.

That could yet bring Isco back to his best. There is every chance Zidane continues to play the 4-3-1-2 shape in the Champions League too. He knows how to get the most out of the Spaniard.



Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Kaustubh Pandey