Will Isco return Real Madrid and Spain to winning ways?
It has been a difficult few weeks for Real Madrid and Spain. Los Blancos have gone four games without scoring a goal, drawing with Atletico Madrid and losing to Sevilla, CSKA Moscow and Deportivo Alaves. Spain managed to win a friendly against a banged up Wales team but suffered a surprise 3-2 defeat to England; which puts their UEFA Nations League group back in the balance.
With regards to Madrid, many are taking the simplistic view that they are struggling to score goals after selling Cristiano Ronaldo. There's no doubt that losing a player who was as prolific as the Portuguese forward was will be damaging. However, the team made a positive start to the campaign. Perhaps something else is the bigger issue.
The last time Real won a match was on 22nd September when they beat Espanyol 1-0. Shortly after that game, Isco was diagnosed with appendicitis which required surgery and has kept him out of the team since. Could it be that the Andalusian's absence has led to a drop in form for Los Blancos and possibly even the Spanish national team?
Isco moved to Real in 2013 shortly after he had helped the Spanish under-21's to success in the European Championships. He had already won the prestigious Golden Boy award thanks to some fine performances for Malaga, especially in their famous run to the Champions League quarter-finals. At that point, he was already thought of as one of the best up and coming players in Europe.
Since moving to Madrid, Isco has been a first-team player. Real regularly rotate their squad but he has made at least 30 La Liga appearances in every season he has been with Los Blancos. In all competitions, he has made over 240 appearances and contributed over 40 goals and 50 assists to the cause.
Despite being no stranger to the first team, Isco hasn't always received the credit he deserves. Ronaldo obviously got a lot of the plaudits and many would give more praise to Luka Modric and Toni Kroos rather than the Spain international. However, when Madrid have found themselves up against it and the others were misfiring, Isco was so often the man that produced a bit of magic that would nick a positive result for Real.
Isco has had similar fortunes with the Spanish national team. He has won 34 caps for La Roja but in the first 28 of those, he only played 90 minutes on six occasions. In his last six appearances, he has played every minute, which included being Spain's best player in the World Cup by quite a distance. Isco also put in two good performances in UEFA Nations League wins over England and Croatia.
There has been a bit of a change of the guard with regards the Spanish national team. The majority of the side that won it all between 2008 and 2012 are now retired. Andres Iniesta was one in that team and although it's almost impossible to replace him, the closest thing Spain will ever have to Iniesta is Isco who carries that same style and ability to ghost past players and make defence-splitting passes at will.
Isco missed out on Spain's recent defeat to England but he is believed to be almost ready for a return to action and could be back as soon as this weekend when Real host Levante. His return can't come a minute too soon for a struggling Madrid and while they can't bring Ronaldo back in their search for goals, they will have Isco back and once he gets up to speed you can be sure that the goals and wins will come back alongside their key man.