This one could be Isco’s first season as a starter for Real Madrid after four seasons with the club. Nobody knows for certain whether Zinedine Zidane will end up giving him that role for the big games as Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio are also strong candidates to start, but Isco has been deserving a spot in Real Madrid’s starting XI.
It’s clear that he’s been a relevant player almost every season he’s been in the Spanish capital. Things weren’t promising for him during Benitez’s tenure and Zidane’s first six months as a coach, but Isco had done enough to cement his status in the club even before that year.
Think about what he did during his debut season with Real Madrid. He was Real’s first man off the bench and completely changed the course of the Champions League Final against Atletico de Madrid —with a little bit of help from Marcelo—. He was also a key player in the 2014 Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona, so much that even an experienced and poised player like Xabi Alonso couldn’t hide his emotions and hugged him when Ancelotti took him off. Those two games alone could’ve and should’ve been enough for Madrid not to sign James Rodriguez that summer. Isco deserved a spot in the starting lineup and Los Blancos spent €80 million on a player who ended up being deployed in Isco’s place. The Spanish midfielder still played heavy minutes that season, but it’s clear that he wasn’t a starter.
Still, Isco’s blossoming happened during the second half of the 2016-2017 season. There’s no way Real Madrid win the Champions League-La Liga without him on the roster, period. Isco’s performances guaranteed him a starting spot in the Champions League Final in Bale’s hometown, although some might still believe that the Welshman would’ve started had he been truly fit to play. Real Madrid lost a crucial player when Bale got injured, but was that injury actually a blessing in disguise as it allowed Isco to finally reach his true potential?
Isco will have even more competition this season in Marco Asensio. These two men should probably play together all season long and yet it’s clear that Zidane will almost certainly leave one of them on the bench if Benzema, Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo are healthy. Asensio is still young and has plenty of room for improvement, so he could possibly accept a role as a reserve, at least this season.
However, Isco hasn’t signed his contract extension with Madrid just yet and might be anxious to find out if he has finally earned a spot in Zidane’s starting XI.