Back in February, when asked about Isco’s role in the team, Carlo Ancelotti was quite adamant: "If he keeps playing like he has been, his place is non-negotiable," said the Real Madrid coach at a Press conference.
Now, a few months later Ancelotti is fielding different questions about his young midfielder, and he was a bit more cryptic this time: "Nobody is happy without minutes, that's normal," he said. "Nacho, Chicharito, Isco…they aren't happy but they are playing well when given the chance."
These more recent comments came in the wake of Isco’s slight murmurs of frustration after finding himself back on the bench after Madrid’s long-term absentees, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez, made their return to the pitch. Following Madrid’s 1-0 win vs Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final the 23-year-old midfielder admitted some frustration:“I am not very content… I thought I had been playing well."
For much of this season Isco has been one of Madrid’s best performers. Initially derided for his lack of defensive aptitude he’s transformed his game this season, filling in for oft-injured Modric when needed, winning over the hearts of the Bernabeu and frankly the rest of Spain, in the process.
But despite his play there is a sense of inevitability about his position in the squad. Madrid have invested heavily in certain players and, regardless of their form, Ancelotti seems dead set on starting them when they are fit.
Isco, however, seems to be someone who heavily relies on the confidence of his Coach to be effective. And in recent weeks James Rodriguez, who’s been in remarkable form since his return, has put his position under threat.
Earlier in the season Isco was heavily relied on in the midfield, his adaptability was crucial to helping Madrid navigate through their shorter-handed periods. But for the skill in his repertoire it’s often clear that Isco’s lack of decisiveness in the final third is what tends to make him more dispensable than his peers.
He’s like a ballerina on the pitch. His jukes, pivots, and pirouettes bamboozle defenders while inducing cheers from the stands. But Isco’s final ball often leaves much to be desired. Compare this to James, who while quite skillful in his own right lacks the sheer gravitas that Isco shows every time he controls the ball.
Yet when Rodriguez is in the final third he almost always makes the right decision. James is an extraordinarily quick thinker, there’s no dwelling when he’s in and around the box. He knows when to shoot and when to pass, and it’s clear that Madrid is a different animal when he’s in the opponents’ area. And the difference between the two has become starker as we head into the business end of the season.
Isco will likely not hit the bench for the rest of the season. The injury to Luka Modric should result in Isco slotting right into that central midfield spot next to Toni Kroos as Madrid fight for La Liga and a place in the Champions League final.
But next season, without even taking into consideration who [President] Florentino Perez may purchase in the summer, it appears Isco may again find himself wondering what he has to do to secure a starting position. And for Madrid, that’s not a good problem