From starting the season in blistering form and receiving plaudits from all corners, Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco has since found himself the principal victim of Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti’s change to a 4-3-3 system. The 21-year-old, the first acquisition of the Italian’s era at the club when he was signed for €30m from Malaga in the summer, scored four goals in the opening five La Liga games including a first-ever headed goal to seal a 2-1 win over Real Betis in the curtain-raiser. It was a start that had the Bernabeu faithful believing the club was justified in selling the popular Mesut Ozil to Arsenal.
However, the 4-1 home defeat of Getafe on September 22 was the last time Isco was on the mark this term and he has now gone seven consecutive games without scoring, although hitting the target has become the least of his problems.
Ancelotti’s perceived lack of trust in the Spanish international appears to be borne out by the fact the player has not completed a full 90 minutes since the Week 4 clash at Villarreal, while his statistics in the Champions League are also poor. The 2012 winner of the Golden Boy Award, presented by sports journalists to Europe’s most impressive youngster, scored on his competition debut against Galatasaray but has subsequently played 105 minutes from a possible 360, making him 15th in the squad list of minutes played.
Isco’s apparent demise may be traced back to the Champions League game with Copenhagen in early October, where Ancelotti decided his best formation for the future was going to be 4-3-3 and his chief attacking options shared between Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. It is a decision that has left Isco with just a place in central midfield to fight for and the eight games since have seen him start just three – against Levante, Malaga and Sevilla – with the 72 minutes he was on the pitch against his former club the most playing time he has been given.
In the other five he has been sat on the bench and entered the fray in only two, playing 23 minutes against Copenhagen and 18 against Juventus, and was an unused substitute in the Clasico with Barcelona, the away game at Rayo Vallecano, and the return leg against Juve in Turin.
Of course Isco, whose natural technical ability has seen him mentioned in some circles as the heir to Andres Iniesta in the Spain team, is not the first player to have undergone a quick-fire reversal of fortune with Los Merengues in recent times.
Jose Callejon and Sergio Canales are just two examples and Luka Modric struggled initially following his high profile transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, yet is now having his best spell with Madrid. More worryingly for Isco, in the past few weeks Ancelotti has preferred Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi in the engine department, with Xabi Alonso’s return from injury adding to the midfield congestion.
Although not alarming, Isco’s case will have to change sooner rather than later given he has ambitions of representing his country in next year’s World Cup in Brazil. A backward step in his career at this stage is the last thing he needs with national team boss Vicente del Bosque planning for the tournament, yet any long-term inactivity may well result in him becoming disillusioned with life in the capital.
Even so, the Malaga-born youngster has time on his side to rectify the situation at club level, although on the international front he will be aware it will be a lengthy four years before the scheduled 2018 World Cup in Russia comes around.