The universal reaction to the release of Real Madrid’s team sheet for Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain was one of surprise. Zinedine Zidane had settled on a consistent midfield three for a number of weeks before the crunch European fixture and Isco had not been a part of that. And yet the playmaker has given the nod against the French champions.
It was a tactical curveball from Zidane and Isco went on to vindicate his selection, playing well as Real Madrid drew 2-2. The playmaker was a constant thorn in PSG’s side and was inches away from opening the scoring for the hosts, hitting the post with a low shot before Karim Benzema converted the rebound.
For a long time, Isco has been a peripheral figure at Real Madrid. His natural talent cannot be doubted, but consistency has been a problem, as has fitness and match sharpness. Questions have also been asked of Isco’s defensive commitment. In recent years, he has been typecast as something of a luxury player, a luxury Real Madrid could do without.
There was a drive to Isco’s play against PSG, though. “He had a good match, with and without the ball,” Toni Kroos said afterwards. That latter part – “without the ball” – is telling and hints at what Zidane’s instructions to the playmaker were before the game. “He has worked hard and given us a lot, also with the ball,” Kroos continued. “Zidane does these things.”
Indeed, Zidane has done a good job of restoring a number of players previously deemed to be past their best. Kroos, for instance, has managed to find his best form again this season after being written off at the end of last season. Luka Modric has also benefited from a summer of rest.
Then there’s Karim Benzema, who at 31 just seems to be getting better and better and more and more important to Real Madrid. Even Marcelo, who looked finished towards the back end of last season, proved his worth in the game against PSG on Tuesday night. There is life in the old Brazilian full back yet.
Between the emergence of Fede Valverde and the re-emergence of Isco, Real Madrid’s midfield options have been bolstered since the summer, when their midfield seemed to be a real weakness. Isco might just have been given a second chance at the Santiago Bernabeu.
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