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New year, new Isco?

The midfielder will face a crossroads in his career come the summer after being largely overlooked by Rafa Benitez this season.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Sergio Ramos may have grabbed the headlines in the Spanish press for calling on "consistency, balance and stability" in his New Year's message but those three words count as much for one of his teammates as they do for the team as a whole.

Isco Alarcón has started 2016 as he did 2015 - by being linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu. The 23-year-old is in his third season in the Spanish capital but he has yet to cement a starting role and his frustrations must surely be growing.

Manchester City are the club being linked with the midfield maestro's services - again. Manuel Pellegrini knows the midfielder well from their time together at Malaga and Isco was close to securing a move to the Premier League club before he opted for Madrid. Now, perhaps, that initial switch is as close as it has ever been.

Isco's place with Los Blancos was summed up on Wednesday as he sat on the bench throughout the 3-1 La Liga victory against Real Sociedad on home soil. Mateo Kovacic and Lucas Vazquez were both preferred to the former Malaga man against the Basques, with Kovacic replacing a mis-firing James Rodriguez in the middle and Vazquez coming on to score his first Madrid goal.

The match showed that Isco has dropped from being first-choice substitute to a player who may not even get his chance from the bench.

Wednesday's bench warming was not something new for the Spain international. It was the second match in a row that Isco sat helpless in the dugout as Kovacic and Vazquez got further run-outs in the 10-2 demolition of Rayo Vallecano. His lack of action against La Real was not part of longer-term thinking with Sunday's match against Valencia in mind.

In total, the midfield magician has started nine times in La Liga this season, with four more appearances from the bench. In total he has played in 802 minutes in the league, so not exactly out in the cold under coach Rafa Benitez, but those minutes are too few for a player with the quality of the Benalmadena born star.

By comparison, Luka Modric has played in 1,295 minutes and Toni Kroos in 1,281. The only player who seems to be getting a rougher deal is James, who has made seven starts and failed to show the kind of form he did in his debut campaign, although that in part is down to an injury at the start of the season.

Isco will, again, be at a crossroads in his career come the summer. Madrid are unlikely to part with the player mid-season with trophies still to play for and the team yet to click as Benitez would like, but the Spaniard will be thinking long and hard come the end of the campaign.

His lack of action has not been completely unjust. Isco has not shown the kind of performances he did under Carlo Ancelotti last season and while some of the blame may be pointed to Benitez for ‘snuffing out' the player's attacking qualities, when everyone was fit under the Italian he was also struggling for minutes on the pitch with the ‘star six' of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James, Modric and Kroos getting the nod.

It's perhaps no coincidence that James' performances have also suffered like Isco's. Both players were important cogs for Madrid last season but have yet to fire under Benitez. There has been a focus on improving Bale's role in the team but other players have seemingly been left untouched by the current coach.

It seems as though Isco is seen as a luxury player by Benitez but that does not explain his absence during the comfortable 10-2 victory over Rayo last month. It seems more like he is an unwanted part of Benitez's plans.

Ancelotti was also initially wary of Isco being a luxury, an additional extra, rather than a player who he could depend on week-in, week-out. The Italian worked on the player's defensive frailties and that work paid off but it now looks as though it may have gone to waste.

The question for Isco will be whether he sticks around for another season. It's likely that Benitez will not stick around for more than one year and that could add to Isco's dilemma. Should he stick around to try his luck under the guidance of a new coach or should he move on to continue developing his game?

Pep Guardiola's likely arrival at City will only further tempt the midfielder. Isco is the kind of player who would thrive in Guardiola's teams and that, coupled with City's continued chase for the player, could leave Isco Manchester-bound. After initially deciding against a move to England, and remaining at Madrid this season despite being linked with a move to Juventus in the summer, the time could be right for a move.

The one hope for Isco this season is that James is in a similar boat. The Colombian has been a starter under Benitez but has struggled and that could mean the Madrid coach opts for a change in his approach. If and when Isco's next chance comes, he needs to take it.

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