Problematic Isco can be Real Madrid’s saviour

The question of how to fit Isco into a Real Madrid side with three forwards is one that has never been properly answered, but the Andalusian magician insists it is asked, again and again.

Thrown on to try and save Los Blancos from a first La Liga defeat of the season, Isco took just three minutes to pull Madrid level against Athletic Club and rescue a 1-1 draw at San Mames on Saturday.

With a bright appearance from the bench Isco showed coach Julen Lopetegui he must be relied upon as Madrid attempt to wrestle the league title back from arch-rivals Barcelona.

The coach has not appeared overly keen to install him as a fixture in the Madrid side despite leaning heavily on him while in charge of Spain.

Although Lopetegui never got the chance to lead his country at the World Cup after being sacked on the eve of the tournament after agreeing to take the Madrid job, Isco would have been his key man in Russia.

Last season at the Santiago Bernabeu Isco failed to convince Zinedine Zidane he was worthy of a regular place, but the playmaker was crucial to Lopetegui’s La Roja.

The coach has known him for over half a decade, having first managed the 26-year-old with Spain U21s, and saw him destroy both Italy and Argentina in the build up to the World Cup.

However Lopetegui is refusing to play favourites in his Real Madrid meritocracy, only starting Isco in two of the four league games so far, against Getafe and Girona.

Isco was given a half-hour cameo against Leganes and was parachuted in at the San Mames as Real Madrid chased the game at 1-0 down to Iker Muniain’s opener.

On trotted the Malaga-born midfielder in the 61st minute. By the 64th Madrid were level, and he had scored it.

Gareth Bale’s excellent cross found Isco all alone in the middle and although headers aren’t the magician’s forte, he dutifully nodded the ball home to equalise.

And if the usually smart Benzema had taken half-a-second longer to decide what to do with the ball in the box in the 90th minute, he might have let the ball run to Isco instead of trying to force a pass through to Lucas Vazquez, which was intercepted.

As usual, Isco had carved out a patch of space all on his own and was ready to strike, poised to preserve Madrid’s 100 percent record, but the ball never arrived.

Lopetegui will argue that with lots of important games coming up it is important to rotate his squad, but the truth is that the question of how to fit Isco into a team with three forwards still hasn’t been answered.

Bale’s injury problems meant Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield that placed Isco at the tip, which seemed to work, but Lopetegui seems sure he wants to use Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema up front together.

Joining Isco up with that attacking trident would be too gung-ho for all but the simplest of home games, so Madrid’s No. 22 has to show Lopetegui that he is the solution, not the problem. And on a tense night in the Basque Country, he got the job started.


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