With the B-B-C trident back in action, along with the more balanced mid-field of Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric, many fans have been left wondering what to do with Isco and James. Do you sell them? Do you feature them in big or small games? Do you bench them and face the possible wrath of Florentino Perez? These are only some of the questions Zidane is contemplating.
Even if Zizou opted to play a 4-2-3-1, a formation that is appropriate to accommodate a playmaker, he must still choose between the Spaniard and the Colombian. Two different beasts, yet effective at what they do best. Considering Madrid are undergoing a face-lift of sorts under Zizou, the Frenchman must settle on an ideology/philosophy of sorts to build the team he feels will be the best prepared for domestic and European battles.
Now I think it's important that I first clear the notion that James and Isco are seemingly the same player: James is efficiently the better the option with a counter-attacking set-up, as he can score from different angles as well as provide assists. This means he needs his teammates to contribute in pressing, not to mention attacking opponents in sync. Isco however, lacks goal-scoring prowess and works better in a possession-based system. A patient, slow build-up facilitates his close-control and flair-like assets. He needs his teammates to keep the ball and use off-the-ball movement to carve open rivals.
Now to put things into context, on my last feature I touched on how James is being played out of position. Though he CAN play in different positions, the 24-year-old is a false ten who thrives on being a nuisance in the middle, in addition to making late runs into the box. Because he is pushed out wide, playing as a false nine, or even as an industrial CM, we get a look at an uncomfortable, lethargic-looking Rodriguez. Simply put, it's not pretty.
Isco is a different story altogether though. Mostly playing alongside Modric and Kroos in his three years at Madrid, Disco-Isco arguably adapted incredibly well to the roles and responsibilities when called upon him as an experimental winger and CM. One can't help but wonder, could he be used as a false nine? Could Madrid think outside of the box just a tad to possibly pull the rug under opponents? Here's how; food for thought.
In the Champions League game against Roma, Zizou decided to take a risk (as Benzema was unavailable). He called upon James to give-a-go as a false nine. I remember tweeting my excitement at Zizou's unbridled enthusiasm. In many ways, what happened was expected. James was viewed looking clueless to what he needed to do. His main task was to grab the attention of defenders, thus freeing up space for CR7 and company. Instead, he looked like a headless-chicken running all over the pitch working hard, but not smart. The attacking third became predictable.
This is where Isco comes in. If there's anything that Isco is associated with, it's his enticing and enthralling dribbling skills. Just search him on YouTube; even close-control juggernaut Andres Iniesta would be impressed. Because Isco strengths come from his ability to effortlessly keep the ball, many times he tends to slow down Madrid's ball movement. Imagine if the club maximized this unique ability. Putting Isco at the fore-front implies that opposing mid-fielders and defenders would be drawn towards the the 23-year-old.
In effect, this suggests that space would open for Madrid's lethal and ruthless attackers. With Casemiro serving as the destroyer in the mid-field, we are talking Ronaldo, Benzema or Bale, and Kroos or Modric joining in on the attack with Isco as the distraction. This idea does not seem feasible as Madrid prefer a 4-3-3, but having this formation and plan up one's sleeve shouldn't fall through the cracks. It could serve to open up stubborn defenses like Atletico Madrid, who Real has struggled against, and difficult opponents like Barcelona, who would not expect a taste of their own medicine.
Consider using this tactic against European giants. Because most teams play zonal-marking in defense, a false nine brings unpredictability, fluidity, and interchangeability to the table. Whether it is used as a last ditch tactic, or a default shape as a result to an injury/lack of personnel, the false nine has it's benefits with Isco as the revolving figure. Even the likes of Bayern, PSG, and more have a soft underbelly when exposed to high-octane off -the-ball movement.
So next time you ponder selling James and Isco, remember that the duplet has their strengths when employed as false ten and nine, and that Madrid could always call upon their most-coveted attributes when they encounter opponents who think they have the upper hand.