“Technically, Isco is a lot like me,” Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had said about the Spanish midfielder in 2015, when he was managing Real Madrid’s youth side – Real Madrid Castilla. At the time, Isco, who was one of the big signings for Real Madrid from Malaga, and among the Spanish media, had managed to overshadow the likes of Gareth Bale and Asier Illarramendi who had also arrived the same summer. The signings meant Isco became a “second thought” for team’s selection.
In two years, nothing much changed for the Spaniard. Even with Zidane as manager, the chances for Isco came but on few occasions. In spite of successful passing percentage of over 90, Isco had to come off the bench in 11 of his 15 appearances in La Liga this season.
But amid reports of him being frustrated because of lack of playing time and wanting a move away, Isco showed the world he is here to stay at Santiago Bernabeu. In an all-important fixture against relegation-facing Sporting Gijon, Isco proved why Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta described him as an “incredible player” and ensured his team’s victory by 3-2, smashing two goals, including one in injury time. With the win, Real maintained the top spot in the table, inching closer towards lifting the trophy.
Apart from the goals, Isco controlled the game on the pitch and showcased his dribbling skills are at par with Iniesta himself. “… showing similarities with another Spaniard with that beautiful dribbling run…,” one of the English commentators said after the midfielder made a total mockery of Sporting’s defence in second half.
The 23-year old midfielder, stamping his authority at the club after the match said, “I am at the best team in the world… I want to stay here for a long time.” Perhaps on the back of spectacular performance, and Luka Modric’s form not being his optimal best, Isco might find himself in the opening XI for the Champions League home leg against Bayern Munich on Tuesday and have a massive change in fortunes.
James Rodriguez posted a photo on Twitter with Isco with a celebratory message. “With the man of the afternoon, two goals from Isco, you killed it. What a great victory!” he said. But Isco’s success becomes a worrying matter for Rodriguez, who is often considered as the first choice between the two.
In spite of his goal, Rodriguez struggled throughout the game and was barely visible. He tried to find pockets of space between Mateo Kovacic and Isco, but often ended up giving the ball away to opposition. A chance to score the winner, with four minutes to go, was wasted away by the Colombian, to make matters worse. Several fans, after the match, criticised the 2014 World Cup Golden boot winner, and said Isco should be selected more often than him.
At Nou Camp, on the back of humiliating loss against Malaga and Juvetus, Barcelona had to dig deep to earn 3 points against Real Sociedad, a side which had just won one game in their last five fixtures. Like many times this season, it was Lionel Messi, who ensured the Catalans make it past the finishing line, with two goals, taking his La Liga tally to 498, and added an assist. But, Sociedad attackers, Xabi Preito and Inigo Martinez exploited Barca’s shoddy defence, and managed to get two goals back, including one own goal from Samuel Umtiti.
Barca goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen’s needs to do more if he wishes his side to have any chance in the upcoming Champions League game against Juventus. Against La Real, the German goalkeeper remained indecisive and still on a number of occasions, and almost cost Luis Enrique another match.
Against the weak defence of Las Palmas, Athletic Bilbao enhanced their Europa League dream, with 36-year old Aritz Aduriz and Iker Munain scoring a brace each. Aduriz once again defied his age, and took his season’s goal tally to 22. Before reaching the age of 30, Aduriz had scored 54 goals, but has since scored 98 goals in last six years. His speed, agility and accuracy were too much for Palmas defence to tackle. Athletic took their tally to 53 points with five wins in the last seven matches, just a point below Villarreal, who are fifth and will take on Alaves on Monday.
A victory for Villarreal will also endanger Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla who suffered another setback in an away game against Valencia which ended in a stalemate. In spite of brilliant control on the field by Steven N’zonzi, who made 105 passes in the game, the side failed to score a goal.
Luck did not favour Sampaoli – who is now reportedly being touted by Argentina FA for the managerial job – as Stevan Jovetic’s shot hit the cross bar, while Valencia’s goalkeeper Diego Alves hand-ball outside the six-yard box was not ruled as a penalty. For Valencia, who are now most definitely in the safety with three straight victories, Simone Zaza’s disallowed goal was the only moment of the match. If Villarreal beats Alaves, they will go just five points below Sevilla, dangerously close for a side who has just won one game in last eight matches.
Atletico Madrid banked on Yannick Carrasco’s double to ease 3-0 past bottom placed Osasuna, but Diego Simeone’s side once again showed how terrible they have been this season when it comes to scoring penalties. The third-placed side, in a bizzare fashion, missed twice from the spot after they were awarded two penalties in the last few minutes. Credit must be given where due to the Osasuna goalkeeper, Salvatore Sirigu, who is on loan from PSG, judged both the penalties (from Carrasco and Thomas Partey) correctly, and stopped Carrasco’s hat-trick and further humiliation to team.
With two missed penalties against Osasuna, Atletico has missed six shots from the spot this season. Coincidently, it was via a controversial penalty from Antoine Griezmann, which had given Los Rojiblancos a victory against Leicester in Champions League fixture. On being asked about the poor record, Diego Simeone refused to blame it on luck. “I cannot explain it, it is an individual action and very difficult to explain. It is not bad luck,” he said. Carrasco agreed: “Maybe we don’t practice penalties enough,” the Belgian said.