Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to be in contention to make his first full start of the season as Real Madrid take on bitter rivals Barcelona in the opening leg of the Spanish Super Cup in Catalonia on Sunday evening.
The Los Blancos club legend was in good spirits as he was pictured alongside fellow stars Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale at Real’s Valdebebas complex – before Zinedine Zidane’s men travel to Barcelona.
Ronaldo came off the bench as a second-half substitute for a short cameo appearance as the Whites defeated Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old is closing in on full fitness after only returning to training on August 6.
According to AS, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has signed an extension to his current contract at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Frenchman, who joined the Whites in January 2016 and has since delivered back-to-back Champions League titles and a La Liga crown, has now committed his future until at least 2021.
Zidane’s existing deal was due to end in June 2018 but Real Madrid have been quick to tie down their club legend turned coach who has proved to be a huge success in the dugout.
As reward for his achievements to date, club president Florentino Perez is thought to have doubled Zidane’s £3.6m annual salary.
Ever since he burst onto the scene five years ago, Isco has always looked capable of becoming one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.
Now, finally, it is happening. In 2012, Isco was making waves with Malaga, playing a key role in Manuel Pellegrini’s team’s unexpected march to the Champions League quarter-final and then starring on the international stage as Spain won the European Under-21 Championship.
His subsequent move to Real Madrid was no surprise and he made a bright start to his Bernabeu career, scoring a late winner on his league debut against Real Betis. But then followed a long period of frustration, with Isco repeatedly seeming to be heading for the exit door after failing to establish a regular place in the starting line-up.
Isco’s main problem was that he was never really given an opportunity to play in his best position as a central attacking midfielder, just behind the front two but with licence to roam.
Playing in that position was essentially impossible because it simply did not exist in the 4-3-3 shape employed almost exclusively by coaches Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane. Isco was therefore forced to compromise and fill in wherever he was asked, occupying a range of roles which didn’t really suit him.
Finally, however, towards the end of last season Zidane made the break away from the 4-3-3, which was looking defensively fragile because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s unwillingness to track back.
Ronaldo’s repositioning as a centre-forward alongside Karim Benzema meant a change in formation, with the defensive importance of Casemiro and the ball-playing skills of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric virtually forcing Zidane’s hand into fielding a midfield diamond.
That shape arose by necessity rather than design, but it was perfectly suited to Isco who finally had the chance to really show what he can do.
Needless to say, he made the very most of that opportunity by shining in his team’s glorious conclusion to last season, and he continued on Tuesday night with another starring role in the Super Cup win against Manchester United.
Now, any suggestion that he could be sold would be ludicrous, and a new contract is just around the corner. Better late than never.