Lionel Messi may have claimed yet another hat-trick, and Nolito may have inspired Celta Vigo to victory over Atletico Madrid, but nowhere was the atmosphere more potentially fractious than at Santiago Bernabeu. A week after the derby disaster, a result compounded by outrage over a birthday party, the natives in the capital appeared ready to revolt.
That was before Isco stepped up and settled everyone down. In a Madrid team shorn of Luka Modric and James Rodriguez, and with Cristiano Ronaldo out of sorts – birthday cake not agreeing with him, perhaps – and Gareth Bale only ever one dribble too far from criticism from the stands, someone had to take responsibility. Isco did so, with a beautiful, curling goal that set Madrid on the way to a comfortable, if not inspiring, win over Deportivo La Coruna.
Isco’s Madrid career has taken an unusual trajectory. He’s gone from big-money signing to forgotten man. Then the comeback kid reached his current status – the darling of the Bernabeu. The 22-year-old’s combination of incredible skill and admirable work rate has won the hearts of the Madrid support, and saw him claim 20 EuroFantasyLeague points for the weekend.
In most other teams a player of Isco’s quality would be the lynchpin, the playmaker around which everything else revolves. But not at Madrid. Instead, Carlo Ancelotti was only able to deploy the ex-Malaga man when Gareth Bale was injured, and Isco’s form was so impressive that when Bale returned, there was a genuine question as to whether or not Madrid could afford to drop Isco. Ancelotti evidently decided they couldn’t, and altered the team accordingly. Modric’s injury means he keeps his place to this day.
Isco started his Madrid career on fire, scoring five goals in his first six games, but when Ancelotti moved to a 4-3-3 formation, it was Isco who dropped out. It was a long road back. While he made more than 40 appearances for Madrid last season, Isco was very much a bit-part player. There was even talk he could leave the club in the summer of 2014, as, despite regular praise from Ancelotti, Isco was only ever on the periphery.
He took centre stage against Depor, and added a goal to his game. Goals are the area in which Isco can perhaps best improve. He now has five for the season – and one for Spain – and while assists are more his thing, reaching double figures for goals would confirm Isco as one of world football’s most dangerous midfielders. It would also make him impossible for Ancelotti to drop, no matter who regains fitness or moves to the club in the summer.
Regular goals would establish Isco as a decisive player for his team, rather than a luxury who is more interested in pretty football than results. It was an accusation levelled at Isco by Vicente del Bosque in November after La Roja beat Belarus. Isco promised to take the comments on board and, in doing so, has become the peacemaker and prince of Madrid.