For the first time since November, Carlo Ancelotti will have to make a really difficult choice to configure his lineup. Los Blancos visit Vallecas only missing Pepe and Arbeloa, and so either James Rodríguez or Isco Alarcón will have to sit on the bench. It is true that Real Madrid’s brightest moments of the season arrived when Gareth Bale was out, with Isco and James on the field, but leaving him out when he is fit is not an option, as Ancelotti has confirmed.
Our coach made it very clear from the beginning of the season that Isco did not belong in his favorite lineup, and last Sunday, against a very poor Granada, we saw what the BBC together with James Rodríguez are capable of. Ancelotti summarized James’ great output after the game:
It did not look like he'd been out for two months. He played well and showed his quality, intensity and knowledge of his position. His verticality helps the team and he always plays with an idea in mind.
Although Granada built a match from which it is impossible to draw conclussions, from a tactical standpoint it seems obvious that James changes things. It looks as if he took the left-winger role more intensely than Isco, but at the same time he sets feet on the box, the hole and even the right wing more frequently. That is, he occupies more space than Isco, and his mobility favors mobility, which helps Ronaldo and Bale.
Isco Alarcón is an extraordinary player that has supported Real Madrid in the toughest moments of the season. He has learnt to play in a position that is new for him and has increased his defensive workrate without diminishing his offensive output, and has been able to fill the shoes of so different players as James, Modric or Bale. In fact, his association with Marcelo on the left wing has probably been Real Madrid’s strongest argument since the beginning of 2015, but perhaps trusting him so much is not worth it.
Real Madrid’s #23 is a player who determines what games will be like. He is so talented and self-confident that he will, naturally, ask for the ball and make the team play at his will, and perhaps this is not the best context for so explosive players as Ronaldo and Bale.
With James, Real Madrid’s attacks are faster, sharper and more frequent. It may be a riskier approach, since the probability of losing the ball is bigger, but the question that should be asked is if there’s any team out there that can stand a continuous stream of onslaughts by a team that has Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema upfront without conceding more goals that they will be able to score.
I think Real Madrid is better with James on the lineup, and I strongly believe that Isco is an extraordinary backup player to have on the bench, as you can let him in if you need to keep an advantage, to increase the ball possession percentage and diminish the defensive risks, but also to overcome a disadvantageous scoreboard, as we did against Atlético de Madrid in the second league clash or the Champions League final last season.