Following the sacking of Rafa Benitez and appointment of Zinedine Zidane, a top-heavy Real Madrid is facing an interesting tactical conundrum. Acquiring Colombian superstar James from Monaco, the club faces a balancing act in pleasing both him and Isco; players who thrive in the same position and would absolutely be starters on any other team in the world. Last season, Carlo Ancelotti had to make it work, but it appears this season, the luxury of having two world-class attacking-midfielders may soon be coming to an end. This season, Rafa Benitez has appeared to approve the work rate of Lucas Vasquez over the two. Isco, has made it very clear he wants to be a starter, and his performances have warranted that claim. However, the club has maintained that if James is healthy, he will always have the role in the starting eleven.
There are really only two outcomes for this situation: either Isco or James leaves to another club OR Real tactically modify their line up to accommodate the two attacking talents. Either way, it won’t be pretty for Los Blancos. James has shown his disapproval at his early substitutions. However, Zidane has been an Isco supporter from the very beginning. Could we see Isco having more playing time now that Zizou is in charge?
Isco and James are two different beasts despite their shared preference for the number ten role. Isco is immaculate with his moves on the ball and keeping possession. Although his style is less direct, his role in the build-plays are crucial. Many times, it is his pressure or one-on-one ability against the opposition which catalyzes a Madrid attack. James, on the other hand, is usually the one who delivers the killer blow between the two. Statistically, James holds more weight as an attacking mid-fielder because he is more direct in his style of play, amassing more shots and assists than his Spanish rival. Arguably, James suits Madrid better because he creates more goal scoring opportunities for the B-B-C trident, rather than keeping the ball more like Isco.
When comparing the two, David Salazar of The Latin Post wrote," Isco’s play is a bit more enigmatic. The Spaniard loves holding the ball, dribbling at opponents, slowing down and making lateral passes. He has a good shot, but it is no where near the level of James Rodriguez’s…he is a similar type of creative player as James Rodriguez but is arguably less suited for Madrid’s forward moving attack. On the counter, Isco is not the man to count on; James Rodriguez certainly works well there." Fine margins separate the two, but regardless, Madrid’s hierarchy is at fault for causing this selection headache.
The most simple solution is that Isco or James leaves and strengthens another side in Europe. It would hurt a lot of Madridistas, as Isco has earned the right to play. Undoubtedly, Madrid would love to keep him, but playing second fiddle to James will cause tension and interest from the Premier League’s elite has paved the way for assured playing time. It also should be noted that his technique would be appreciated and admired in England. Same with James. He has a claim to be deemed the club’s number ten with attacking prowess and stunner goals.
In the Copa Del Rey Cup match against Cadiz, fans got to see the potential benefits of a James and Isco combination in the team. In his match review, Eduardo Alvarez from ESPN FC wrote, "his constant exchanging of positions with the Colombian gave Isco the chance to show what he does best. He excels with freedom and playing closer to the opposition’s goal." Also meriting a great review, James’ "vision and skill with the ball are two of Madrid’s biggest assets this season." Perhaps, Real Madrid could use the two in a false number nine sort of role. It would take some adjustment, but it would also give Zidane another trick up his sleeve if needed.
Can James and Isco truly co-exist? Probably not without disgruntling the other. Isco or James needs to leave because there are too many cooks in the kitchen for this team, or Madrid need to adjust tactically. However, that would take much time on the training ground, and may suppress the full effect of the B-B-C.