#360view: Isco looks set for key role in Zidane's Real Madrid

Andy West 07:27 11/01/2016
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Back in the mix: Isco.

One game is far too soon to draw any meaningful conclusions, but Zinedine Zidane could not have wished his coaching debut with Real Madrid to have gone any better than Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna.

The performance, highlighted by Gareth Bale’s hat-trick and Karim Benzema’s brace, served to confirm something we already knew: Madrid possess the quality to score a bundle of goals against any opposition.

And although Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, he was plentifully involved in the game and will continue to find the back of the net. There’s no need to worry about that.

From the long-term perspective, rather than the result itself, the most interesting aspect of the game was the early glimpse it provided into Zidane’s tactical plans. There had understandably been a great deal of anticipation to discover how he would set out his team, and the answer was more nuanced than expected.

When in possession, Madrid were in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a conventional back four protected by the midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, who were playing deeper and closer together than they had under Rafa Benitez.

In front of them, Isco was the man charged with fetching and carrying, looking to get in between the lines of the opposition defence and link the Los Blancos midfield with attack, which saw Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo revert to starting positions on the wing – although with licence to roam inside – as opposed to the more central roles they occupied earlier in the season.

In itself, that approach was interesting enough and marked a considerable change from the tactical system used by Benitez, but even more fascinating was what Zidane asked his players to do when they lost possession and had to defend.

Rather than holding their starting positions, the front six shifted into a 4-4-2 formation, with Isco shuttling out to cover the left wing and Ronaldo drifting upfield and infield alongside Karim Benzema.

What that basically did was relieve Ronaldo of any real defensive duties, instead asking Isco to carry out even more running by effectively filling two positions at once: attacking central midfielder with the ball, and left winger without it.

That is clearly a challenging task from a physical point of view but also represents a major opportunity for the gifted Spain international, who has been in and out of the team ever since moving to the Bernabeu from Malaga in 2013.

During that period, Isco has regularly shown flashes of the brilliance that once made him the most-hyped young player in Spain, but he has never been able to nail down a place in the starting XI – partly due to the guaranteed starter status handed to Bale and Ronaldo, and partly because he’s a victim of his own versatility, which makes him the perfect squad player rather than holding down a set position.

Now, though, Isco may have a chance to finally fulfil his undoubted potential. He would appear to be in a straight fight with James Rodriguez for the hybrid midfield/winger role, and Isco’s greater athletic ability would make him a more likely candidate.

Time will tell, but perhaps Zidane’s reign will also prove to be Isco’s.

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