Isco’s virtuoso performance against Sporting Gijon was the perfect audition for a starting spot in Real Madrid’s Champions League second leg clash against Bayern Munich.
He seemed to do everything right: with swagger yet effective. He scored two exceptionally well-taken goals, earning a crucial three points for his side.
With his Zidane-esque control of a dropping ball and weaving his way past several despairing Sporting defenders he nearly scored a goal of the season contender.
Such stunning individual performances have become increasing commonplace for the Spanish midfielder, and his latest screamed “play me, I’m good enough”.
And he got his wish. In large part due to the injury to Gareth Bale, he took to the field against the German champions. While he did the little things well, the headlines will be taken by Cristiano Ronaldo, Marco Asensio and controversy aplenty.
Perhaps unable to replicate this form, there will still be calls for the 24-year-old to be handed a regular starting role. Not just against Bayern and for El Clasico, but for the foreseeable future.
Isco has made no secret of his desire for increased game time having started less than half of Los Blancos’ league matches this campaign.
Subsequently, this will do little to stop the Spanish playmaker linked with moves away from the club at every window but he acknowledges that he is at one of the world’s biggest clubs, where competition is fierce.
Regardless of his virtuoso performances at Real Madrid, he’s not too good to be sold. Few at Real Madrid are.
Mesut Ozil, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain were all at the top of their game before they were moved on. And while Keylor Navas is now the club’s undisputed goalkeeper, he was a dodgy fax machine away from enduring the dreary weather of Manchester.
Zidane has further demonstrated this in his team selection, dropping James Rodriguez in favour of Casemiro for the sake of tactical superiority. Isco finds himself with the same dilemma.
Zizou knows his first XI, and for the majority of his spell they have served him well yet sadly that XI does not include Isco with everyone fit, subsequently seeing him miss out against Atletico Madrid and Bayern.
With Real Madrid at the summit of the league table and marching into the Champions League semi-finals, there is little incentive for the French manager to change too much.
At present he serves an important role to Zidane as an effective plan B: a game changer. What he offers over the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos is evident.
He brings flair, attacking endeavour, exploiting gaps in between the lines. In doing so he attracts defenders and helps creates space for others.
As well as his offensive abilities he has adapted his game well over the years, becoming a harder worker centrally and out wide when necessary.
Moreover, he has done immensely well to see off the sizeable threat James posed to his place in the squad.
So with a potential title-decider against Barcelona on the horizon, Zidane has a tough decision to make. But it’s a nice problem to have.