After the amount of tensions in the classic games of the Mourinho era, Florentino Perez has made a transition to relative peace. He hired Carlo Ancelotti. In his backpack, the Italian coach brought a young attacking midfielder. In Andalusia, he was an extraordinary playmaker. If it hadn’t been for the referee in the Champions League semi-final clash with Borussia Dortmund in 2013, who knows what could have happened.
He can drive you crazy with his skills while his nonchalance will astonish you. His name is Francisco Alarcon, also known as Isco. A major par of his problem is that of regularity. In this player analysis, we will discover what makes him so inconstant despite having the total confidence of his president and his teammates.
He’s very strong at holding the ball, has the ability to thread through balls and combines with the closest player with short passes. When he approaches the penalty area, keepers get nervous. Isco is a stylish player, the kind of player that can play on the wing without relying on speed like Santi Cazorla, Andres Iniesta, David Silva or the Juan Mata of old.
In his first two years with Real Madrid, the midfielder was the supersub, since Angel Di Maria and James Rodriguez were preferred as starters. He really had his chance with the arrival of Zidane, a former classic number 10. The Frenchman knows how to use this kind of attacking midfielder in the last two seasons, even dropping Gareth Bale for the Valencian.
Isco had the function to create a surplus in the last third, being the most attacking midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond and free to move where he wanted. His performance at the Vicente Calderon in the 2017 Champions League semi-final stands out when he scored after great work from Benzema on the left wing. Also notable was his great job against the Juventus midfield in Turin last season.
Zidane exited, Lopetegui arrived, and everybody thought it would be Isco’s year thanks to his great relationship with his former national team boss. Since winning the Under-21 European Championship in Israel together, they forged a solid bond. As with La Roja, the former boss of Porto put Isco on the left wing with license to drift inside. At the beginning things worked well, until suddenly in Real couldn’t score anymore. They lost four and drew once in five successive games.
It wouldn’t be harsh to give him a zero at this category. The contribution of the Valencia academy product is very poor. With 0.4 interceptions per game, he’s not really concerned by the regaining possession. In contrast, Dani Ceballos has on average 0.7 interceptions per game.
Like all Madrid midfielders, the number 22’s pass completion rate is high (88% in La Liga). It’s even higher with Spain (91.2%). This shows his desire to play short. Isco is not a Toni Kroos who dribbles only when it’s necessary: Lopetegui’s key player has 1.5 dribbles per game.
That’s why defenders often commit fouls on him, at 0.8 per game. Sometimes dribbling is the key to destabilising a compact defence employing a low-block system. Sometimes, however, you have to share the ball or try to hit the target, and not over-complicate the game.
The dark side
Having started six La Liga games on the bench, registering 0.8 shots per game is not enough for someone who has to prove his doubters wrong. This becomes more pertinent in light of Los Blancos’ 17 total combined shots per game. Since the World Cup he’s not been the same man that trashed Argentina 6-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The data confirms it. In three full games, he has scored only once, registered 3.3 bad controls and been dispossessed twice per game. Another problem with the former Malaga star is the fact that when he has to shoot, he can be nonchalant. Often his shots are blocked or are too weak to worry the goalkeepers.
His best game so far this season was the 3-0 home win against Roma on the opening day of the Champions League group stage. He scored a neat free-kick like that one he scored against Italy in a 3-0 victory at the same stadium. Since this game, he was injured for a month and never found his form again. Lopetegui counted on him to save his job, but found nothing: the boss was sacked.
It seems that the end is near, as Solari has found his starting line-up without him. During the FIFA Club World Cup final against Al-Ain Brazilian teenager Vincius was preferred to Isco. It showed that his manager doesn’t count on him anymore.
Despite having played in every final since his arrival, he didn’t play this time. Spanish media talk about an exchange with Chelsea involving Isco and Mateo Kovacic, which sounds suitable. Isco and Hazard are almost similar even if the latter scores more than the former. Having both in the team would not benefit Madrid.
When you consider what the Real Madrid playmaker can do with a ball in a forest of defenders, it is hard to think that since the World Cup he has scored only six goals and assisted four in 30 games. These stats have resulted in a drastic relationship with his current boss Santiago Solari. Usually he get booed by the Bernabeu; he insulted them back in the last match.
At the end of the day, Isco Alarcon is a phenomenal playmaker. His recent failures for Real Madrid have been more than made up for in a Spain shirt. Maybe Real and Isco don’t match, or maybe the Madrid coaches – except Lopetegui – don’t know how to fit him into their systems. He has to improve. As the saying goes; “As the Workman so is the work”.
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