The rise and fall of Isco

It has been a spectacular fall from grace. After his transfer from Valencia – where he failed to become a first team regular – to Malaga in 2011, Isco Alarcon established himself as Spain’s next big thing, helping Les Boquerones reach the quarter finals of the Champions League in his penultimate season at the club.

His toils in Andalusia, where he made 82 appearances in all competitions during his two-year spell, were rewarded with a questionable move to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Initially, the 21-year-old was touted as Mesut Ozil’s heir apparent and constantly proved his critics wrong with a bright start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, in the space of a few months, things have taken a turn for the worse. Life in Madrid isn’t as rosy as it once seemed.

Initially, Carlo Ancelotti stuck with his predecessor’s tactics and attempted to fine-tune Jose Mourinho’s tentative 4-2-3-1 formation. It was Isco who was the biggest benefactor. Ancelotti’s use of the ‘double pivot’ – two deeper lying midfielders – meant that Isco, who played as a trequartista, was given licence to roam between the midfield and the lone striker.

And, true to form, the starlet excelled. In his first 16 appearances for Los Blancos, Isco scored six goals and created 39 chances, which equated to 36 key passes and 3 assists. The 21-year-old also enjoyed a pass accuracy of 88%.

However, Ancelotti’s decision to switch to a more attack-minded 4-3-3 formation meant Isco no longer had a crucial role to play. As a player who excels in space, the Italian’s new tactics meant that there was no natural space for the Spain international, unless he could adapt to a new position.

Angel Di Maria’s rise hasn’t helped either, with the Argentine often playing alongside Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso.

On Saturday evening, with Di Maria one more booking away from suspension, Isco was handed the golden opportunity to show what he was made of. And with El Clasico looming, he had no choice but to show his mettle. He didn’t.

The hype that had surrounded Isco’s return to Malaga was premature. Throughout the match, Isco was slow and caught in possession on numerous occasions and failed to carry out his tactical obligations successfully. He appeared unsure of when to push forward and when to retreat, made numerous errors on the ball and failed to offer the attack any creativity.

After Karim Benzema was subbed off in the second half due to injury, Isco was pushed forward into the false nine position. Things hardly improved as he blasted a shot over the crossbar after Di Maria had played him in to on a one-on-one situation. Ancelotti had had enough and Isco was soon replaced by Jese.

Madrid have been in relentless form of late and are now on a 30-match unbeaten streak in all competitions. Isco, by contrast, has fallen into an abyss. Saturday was the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for the upcoming El Clasico, and he blew it.