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Isco yet to provide disco in new role

The talented playmaker is adjusting to another new position under Rafa Benitez. Only time will tell if he can pull it off...

Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Where to play Gareth Bale? How to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo? Who should partner Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defence? Rafa Benitez has plenty to ponder within his Real Madrid squad but the one question that is proving as tough to answer as any is how to get the best out of Isco Alarcón?

It's a question that Carlo Ancelotti struggled to answer and it's a question Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque continues to mull over. The former Malaga man oozes class on the football pitch but exactly where to play him remains up for debate a debate that will be at the forefront of his mind going into Saturday's La Liga clash with Granada at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Unless Benitez springs a big surprise, the 23-year-old is set to start his third match of the campaign when the Andalusians, beaten 9-1 in the same fixture last season, roll into the Spanish capital. Gareth Bale's injury means he is expected to be sidelined for two weeks, joining James Rodriguez in the treatment room. The pair have been the prime reason Isco has found himself on the bench when both are fit but now he has another chance to stake a claim for a regular starting role.

It's a situation the Benalmadena-born playmaker has found himself in on more than one occasion before. Tipped to the be the future star of the Spanish national team when Florentino Perez brought him to the Spanish capital, Isco stormed onto the scene with a goal on his debut and subsequent star performances but he has never truly cemented a first-team place.

Politics, perhaps good reasoning and a hint of good faith have seen Madrid go with James and Bale when both are available and that has left Isco has super-sub. He may have got his fair share of first-team starts last season but the majority of those came when either the Colombian or the Welshman were absent.

It seemed like all that could change with the arrival of Benitez. Not only does the Madrid-born coach like to rotate his squad to keep his players fresh, giving Isco a possible crack of the whip even when star names are available for selection, but he started Isco in the opening game of the season at Sporting Gijon, albeit with James not 100 per cent match fit.

The Colombian was restored to the line-up for the 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis and with good reason - scoring twice, one of them a bicycle kick - and was key throughout. That Bale also scored twice and seemed to be taking to his more central role like a duck to water will have left Isco with a familiar taste in his mouth.

Now with the pair injured he will get some more regular action but so far he has yet to shine in a position mainly out on the right. Benitez's use of Bale in the centre has left Isco with limited options and while he shone out on the left of a midfield three last term, he is operating in a slightly more unfamiliar role out on the right this term.

That Bale is absent for this weekend's clash with Granada should not change things a whole lot. Isco will be keen for a start through the middle, where he can be at his creative best, but Benitez could tinker with things and opt for a 4-4-2 given two of his attacking stars are sidelined. Two of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro are expected to start in the middle and Isco will have to make do with a place out wide. Even if the formation remains the same as previous weeks, his wish to play in the middle will not likely be granted.

Isco has always been entertaining to watch. He reached his peak in a Madrid shirt midway through last season when he not only got the Bernabeu on its feet in appreciation, but those at other stadiums too. He was even the star attraction for Spain on home soil.

He also fits the bill for Madrid and Perez. Although the club did not spend the kind of money they did on Bale and James, they put their hands deep into their pockets for the No.10 and wanted to make him part of a Spanish team alongside fellow young stars such as Dani Carvajal and Asier Illarramendi. He was young, Spanish and popular. He was also entertaining, very entertaining.

Those qualities have not transcended into weekly starting roles, however. Some put it down to politics but perhaps style plays a part, too. Isco plays differently to Bale and James, with the former relying on pace, power and a long-range eye for goal, while the Colombian relies purely on craft. Isco falls into the category alongside the former Monaco and Porto man and that's where his real competition lies.

The trouble with playing Isco wide on the right is that he cannot beat a man with pace. Bale, along with Carvajal or Danilo, can, but Isco relies on coming inside and creating. He did that with aplomb from the left but has found it more difficult so far from the right. Benitez, the kind of coach who doesn't miss a thing, will have taken that on board.

While James is another player not blessed with raw pace, he does move the ball quickly. Isco, on the other hand, likes to bide his time and slows things down somewhat. His style of player is better suited to facing some teams than others.

Isco had to adapt under Carlo Ancelotti to get the Italian's faith and adapt he did. He answered his coach's criticism of not chipping in to help the side defensively and won him over. Now he looks set to have a different challenge under a different coach. Isco is a player crying out to play through the middle but it looks like he is faced with another task of adapting to a new coach and a new system. Only time will tell if he can pull it off again.

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