Real Madrid found solace in the Champions League once more as a 2-0 win at Roma confirmed top spot in Group G following a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Eibar in La Liga.
The three-time reigning champions took a 47th-minute lead through Gareth Bale, who capitalised on Federico Fazio’s mistake.
That came after Cengiz Under’s woeful miss at the end of the first half and Real doubled their lead when Lucas Vazquez struck to secure top spot in the pool.
The result which booked them a round of 16 berth in this season’s competition also extended an outstanding record.
Madrid have now qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League on 23 occasions, the last 22 consecutively.
They also remain the team to have done so more times than anyone else.
Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have managed to qualify from the group stage on 22 occasions, while Juventus have achieved it 19 times.
What now for Isco?
After being left out of the squad for Tuesday night’s game at Roma, it would be tempting to conclude that the Real Madrid midfielder is nearing the end of his stay at Santiago Bernabeu, with new manager Santiago Solari apparently not rating him too highly.
In reality, however, this is probably only the end of the road for Isco with Los Blancos on one condition: if he wants it to be.
If Isco really wants to stay at the club and earn a chance to impress Solari, it won’t be that difficult for him to do so. All he has to do is stay quiet, train hard, adopt positive body language with his team-mates and his coaches, and his chance will duly come.
If he shows a good enough attitude, Isco is too good a player for Solari to ignore forever, especially as the new coach has already shown himself to be an advocate of a squad-rotation policy. There are only so many rotations available which do not include Isco, and sooner or later he will be given playing time.
Seriously, the only time Real Madrid have played consistently good football for a sustained period in the last five years was at the end of the 2016/17 season, when Isco was at the point of a midfield diamond.— Andy West (@andywest01) November 27, 2018
The bigger question, perhaps, is whether he can be really bothered, because all of this is a process he has been forced to go through far more often than he would care to remember.
Ever since he first moved to Madrid from Malaga in the summer of 2013, Isco’s career trajectory has repeatedly followed the same old pattern: he plays some great games, looks undroppable, appears to have made himself a fundamental member of the starting eleven but then gradually falls out of favour, often to the extent that his future at the club comes under doubt. We’ve been here many times before, and Isco’s current situation of having to earn his right to play will no doubt feel wearily familiar.
In the end, there’s surely a big chance that Isco will finally decide he’s fed up with being forced to prove himself in a way that others are not – it must surely be galling to the Spain international, for instance, that Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are still and always have been guaranteed starters more or less whenever they are fit, despite not having done much more than Isco to be worthy of that elevated status.
With the arrival of Solari, Isco is once again seeing his new manager do the same thing that all his previous managers in Madrid have done: pick Bale, pick Benzema, and then decide who else they can find room for.
Isco’s frustration must be compounded by the fact that the only exception to that rule was Julen Lopetegui, a long-time admirer of the midfielder who made him a key feature of his Spain national team but then only lasted three months at the Bernabeu.
And so Isco is back to square one – again – and he must surely be tempted to skip the whole ‘proving myself worthy’ process this time around and instead start paying some serious attention to the ongoing reports that several top tier clubs, including Manchester City and Barcelona, are interested in securing his services.
Close to squad @Javiherraez says Isco has no fitness issue - so Solari just reckons Valverde, Vinicius and Mariano better options off bench.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) November 27, 2018
City, in particular, would be a logical move. The English club would be hard pushed to find a more appropriate long-term replacement for David Silva, and the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola in a new, exciting, ambitious and highly paid environment must be a big temptation for Isco.
And if he’s going, he should probably go soon. He will be 27 by the end of the season, and his chances of sealing a big-money long-term contract at an elite club will rapidly start to diminish as he approaches 30.
It’s time to either stick or twist, and considering the number of times Isco has been in this same position before, it would not be surprising if he now demands an entirely new pack of cards.
The question currently being asked is whether Real Madrid will give Isco another chance to earn a place in the team. Perhaps a better question would be whether he really wants one.
Real Madrid stalwart Marcelo has urged Isco to use his time on the sidelines as a learning experience.
Isco, 26, did not even make the substitutes’ bench for the midweek 2-0 win at Roma in the Champions League. This continued a run for the celebrated Spain playmaker of not starting any matches under new permanent head coach Santiago Solari.
“I am not the one to give advice, we are older, we are parents, we know what we have to do,” Marcelo said to Real Madrid TV.
“All the players want to play, but we have to work and that’s what all the players have done.
“I’m not saying Isco hasn’t worked, but football is like that and you have to see what you’re failing at and improve.”
Isco has scored 43 times in 253 appearances for Los Blancos since June 2013’s arrival from Malaga.