Back in August and September, Real Madrid’s rising star Isco could do no wrong. He had just played a significant role in helping the Spain Under-21 side win the European Championship. Shortly after that, he secured a 32 million euro move from Malaga to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Hailed as the next big thing in Spain, Isco enhanced his reputation further in his first few weeks as a Los Blancos player. He was the hero on the opening weekend of the season when he created a goal and headed in the winner against Real Betis. He grabbed a brace against Athletic Bilbao, scored another against Getafe, and opened his account in the Champions League against Galatasaray.
While Madrid’s other big name arrival, Gareth Bale, struggled with injury, fitness and form issues, Isco was on the crest of a wave it appeared.
And then El Clasico arrived.
Isco found himself out of the side, Bale was named in the front three, and the pair’s fortunes have changed ever since. Since the loss at the Camp Now, Bale has formed a key role in the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) front three – scoring three and providing five assists in the post-Clasico games for Los Blancos. Isco, on the other hand, has hardly had a look in – and some reports have emerged that he may even be on his was out of the club if Madrid get an acceptable offer.
So what has gone wrong for the 21-year-old?
The answer appears to be the change the team’s set up. Isco was pivotal when Ancelotti set out his 4-2-3-1 formation. Playing just behind the front man, he was able to find the space in front of opposition defences to create chances for others. He could link with the other attacking midfielders, and roam around, making the runs to bring others into the game.
Since the game at the Nou Camp however, Ancelotti has opted for a 4-3-3 formation. The form of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano makes it impossible to drop any of them, while the trio are more suited to those roles in the front three than Isco is. In midfield, the Italian manager has gone for Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira as the duo to form a defensive base on which more attacking players can build from. With the World Cup winner having only returned from a long injury lay off, Asier Illarramendi is the obvious choice to come off the bench when Alonso’s legs tire.
The other midfield role has of late gone to Luka Modric. After a difficult first season in the Spanish capital, the former Tottenham Hotspur man seems to have found his feet and is playing some incredible football.
So Isco seems to be a victim of the formation change. He will have to be patient for his chances, and with Khedira likely to miss the rest of the season through injury having torn his cruciate ligament while playing for Germany, Isco may find himself back in the fold.
Another factor to take into consideration is the amount of football the youngster has played in the last 12 months. Malaga had an oustanding couple of years under Manuel Pellegrini. While the south coast club is cash strapped, they enjoyed a superb run to the quarter finals of the Champions League last season, with Isco playing a key role.
As previously mentioned, he then went off with Spain Under-21’s in the summer, meaning he didn’t get a proper rest. Ahead of the most recent La Liga game against Real Sociedad, Ancelotti alluded to the fact Isco needed a break and played down reports of any potential exit.
“”Isco’s problem is just competition, sometimes he plays, sometimes on the bench. He needed a rest, but he is fine now,” he said.
With the door open again for him, let’s see if the Isco party resumes when La Liga returns next week, or whether the lights have gone out already.