There are few players on this Real Madrid squad more exciting than Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez.
While Ronaldo can sate the Bernabeu’s appetite with a steady stream of goals and Sergio Ramos can evoke your rawest emotions with a last-minute header, no player gets the fans out of their seat as many times in a match as the diminutive Spaniard hailing from Málaga.
Possessing the fleetest of feet, a low center of gravity, and an audaciousness to take on players at any time and any place, Isco has picked up something of a reputation as an entertainer that dribbles for his own enjoyment as much as anyone’s else’s. While that would usually make such a player an immediate fan favorite anywhere else, the Bernabeu have criticized Real Madrid’s #22 for over-playing on the football, leading him to supposedly lack a true cutting edge.
While such critiques are certainly rooted in some validity, it ignores the massive maturation process Isco has gone through since he arrived at the Bernabeu as a raw prodigy ready to dribble the world.
Upon Bale’s record-breaking arrival, Carlo Ancelotti quickly recognized that Isco’s guile, close control, and work-rate, would be better served in the long-term (at least at a place like Madrid) if he made the transition from No. 10 to central midfielder.
Since his solid trial outing against Bayern Munich in the 1st leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals and his stunning performance vs. Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, Isco hasn’t looked back, becoming a defensively sound and industrious playmaker that possessed the ability to affect games at the highest level.
As a celebration of Isco’s under-appreciated transformation and his underrated match-winning ability, below are his four greatest games in a White shirt, ranging from his debut days to his more current performances under Zinedine Zidane.
4. Isco’s Debut vs. Real Betis (2013/14)
It’s safe to say that Real Madrid’s first match under new manager Ancelotti was not vintage football. Even though Los Blancos fired off plenty of shots and dominated the ball, it was clear that the side was yet to fully understand the Italian’s more patient possession-based system, something that could’ve ended up costing Real Madrid points in only the first league match of the season.
Yet they didn’t, thanks to debutant Isco’s dazzling, feet, energy, and drive to win. With 76 touches, he was the hub of Madrid’s attacking play, whether that meant torturing Betis with the ball at his feet (he completed 3 dribbles and drew an astonishing 10 fouls) or executing penetrative passes that progressed play and created chances (Isco ended the night with 3 key passes, 1 through ball, and 1 assist).
Not content with simply an assists, Isco popped into the box and scored a dime of a header to win the game and complete a magnificent debut.
Ignored in all this drama was Isco’s impressive work-rate (5 tackles and 1 interception), which signaled the viability of the transition that was to come.
3. Isco vs. FC Barcelona (14/15)
A key match that demonstrated this stylistic transformation was Real Madrid’s resounding 3-1 victory over Barcelona in the 1st Clásico of the 14/15 season. At this point in time, Barcelona were still yet to concede a goal, while Real Madrid were still recovering from two consecutive league defeats against Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid.
With Bale out injured, Isco got the start as a left-midfielder in a 4-4-2, meaning that while he had license to roam forward, he would still have to track the runs of Iniesta, Messi, and Dani Alves, something that demanded excellent positional intelligence and a relentless work-rate.
This rather limited role meant that Isco racked up few offensive statistics, but his role on the ball was crucial in avoiding Barcelona’s counterpress and buying time so that attacking options could appear upfield.
While that alone made Isco tactically crucial to Real Madrid’s victory, his marquee moment came when he chased down a clearance that looked like a lost cause and dispossessed Iniesta to spark a counter that ended up with Karim Benzema putting the ball in the back of the net.
2. Isco vs. Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Final (13/14)
It’s no coincidence that two of the matches on this list include FC Barcelona. While Isco may be occasionally wasteful against some of the minnows in the league, he always makes sure to put in his most committed and mature performances against the biggest sides in world football.
But even though Isco had made such a trait fairly clear with his performance against Bayern, fans were still fairly nervous to see how a small attacking midfielder would hold up in the center of the park against one of the best offensive teams in the world.
Needless to say, he dominated Barcelona’s midfield with his hustle, nifty footwork, and perfectly timed vertical passes.
Due to the headline dominating antics of Bale’s winning goal, many forget that it was Isco who sparked the first goal, thanks to his underrated ball winning abilities and his beautifully timed pass into Bale.
He also played a role in the second goal, as he coolly kept his head to find Coentrao and help Madrid break through Barcelona’s intense press.
He ended the night with a team high 4 key passes and a Casemiro-esque 9 tackles and 2 interceptions.
1. Isco vs. Atlético Madrid (16/17)
With the three previous selections coming at least two seasons ago, it’s pretty important to remind people that Isco is still a magnificent player capable of stunning performances. Nothing made that more clear than his spectacular game in Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over city rivals Atlético Madrid.
With Atléti the strong favorites against an injury stricken Madrid (No Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Toni Kroos, or Karim Benzema in the starting lineup), Isco stepped up to carry Madrid’s midfield past an intense and well organized press.
Displaying literally god-like ball control and dribbling ability, Isco juggled, tricked, and jinked his way past scores of Atléti players to provide Ronaldo and Bale with enough service to attack Los Colchoneros’ back-line.
His creativity was also on point, as he provided Ronaldo with two excellent chances and finished his night with 4 key passes.
Like with his key contribution to Madrid’s goals in the Copa del Rey final, many will forget that it was Isco’s lobbed pass to Bale that allowed Ronaldo to score his hat-trick and decisively knock Atlético Madrid out of the title race.
Nevertheless, he will surely be remembered for his mesmerizing display of technical quality that few players have ever matched in Real Madrid’s long and storied history.
(All statistics taken from whoscored.com)