Real Madrid’s 3-0 victory over AS Roma was a strong team performance, making it difficult to pick out one player who was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Nevertheless, if we were to single out a key performer, Isco would be a fine choice.
Although the Spanish playmaker was deployed as a left-winger in a 4-3-3, his role was much freer than that of a traditional or inverted winger. Similar to the Zidane era, Isco was allowed to drop deep to help circulate play in front of the opposition’s defensive midfield line (with the main difference between coaches being that Isco was not allowed as much horizontal freedom as before). This was necessary because Real Madrid’s build-up was often asymmetric, with Kroos dropping in line to dictate play next to Casemiro while Modric stayed higher.
Isco’s deeper movements thus allowed him to initiate short passing combinations that helped Madrid play through Roma’s occasional high press and 4-1-4-1 medium block. In the cases that this didn’t work, Real always had an out ball to Carvajal over on the far side.
But Isco’s role was much larger than this. He also sometimes checked his runs towards the ball so that he remained in-between the lines, allowing for quick vertical progressions that destabilized Roma’s shape. Isco executed this type of movement near the end of the first half, allowing him to win a free-kick that he dispatched for the first goal of the game.
Of course, Isco’s role wasn’t just limited to off-ball actions, as he often used his time in possession to play attacking passes in open play and on the counter-attack to get teammates into advanced positions to score.
Finally, the bandy-legged trickster also made several runs into the box whenever the situation called for it, allowing him to nearly score a 1v1 opportunity.
This performance was an extremely timely one from Isco, as it makes a strong argument for his inclusion in the starting eleven in a period where Asensio seems to be the first choice left-winger.