With the hour-mark approaching, and with Real Madrid nursing a one-goal lead on visiting Getafe, Isco picked up the ball on the left-hand edge of the 18-yard box, burst into space protected by five blue shirts and unleashed a powerful, right-footed drive that beat goalkeeper Miguel Angel Montoya inside the far post and provided the hosts a measure of insurance as they proceeded to triumph 4-1 at the Bernabeu.
As a goal, Isco’s Sunday strike didn’t look all that different from a typical Cristiano Ronaldo tally, but there was a bit of Andres Iniesta in it as well: playing slightly from the inside-left of the attacking third, taking on defenders in the goalmouth, finishing with deadly accuracy.
The 21-year-old—who for €30 million became the first acquisition of the Carlo Ancelotti era at Madrid when he signed from Malaga in July—has settled quickly in the Spanish capital. To date he has started every match for his new club, scoring in four of them and reaffirming both his reputation as one of Spain’s top, young attacking midfielders and those comparisons to Iniesta.
Eight years younger than the Barcelona star, Isco is very much the natural heir to the world and European champion, both in domestic terms—as a leading playmaker in La Liga—and for the Spanish national side, which will be undergoing something of a generational shift following the current World Cup cycle.
Like Iniesta, he can operate both from the left of the attack and through the middle—where he has been used so far by Ancelotti. Both players are naturally right-footed but aren’t adverse to using their left on the dribble, and both possess the vision to use their forward-moving teammates in buildup play, the nous to execute the manager’s tactics and the dynamism to make things happen out of nothing.
Last season, while still at La Rosaleda, Isco created 43 scoring chances over the course of the campaign; Iniesta created 44. And while Iniesta out-passed Isco by a success rate of 90 per cent to 85 per cent, Isco took considerably more shots than his countryman—65 per cent of which hit the target. He also scored nine goals to Iniesta’s three. (Statistics courtesy Squawka.)
There are some other differences as well.
Iniesta often functions in a deeper role as part of a midfield triangle that also includes Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets; Isco, meanwhile, is mostly used in a more advanced role as part of a three-man support group behind Karim Benzema that also incorporates Ronaldo and one of Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale.
But he isn’t at all uncomfortable with dropping back to lend a hand on the defensive side of the ball. So far this term he has contributed three interceptions, and his 26 interceptions last season bested Iniesta by 11.
Of course, where Iniesta is so far unmatched by Isco is in longevity, merit-based reputation and winning record. What Isco has so far accomplished this season Iniesta has been doing for entire campaigns, year after year for nearly a decade. And he has replicated his Barcelona performances for Spain—performances that have made him a World Cup winner and two-time European champion.
Isco has some way to go before he reaches the plain Iniesta has been operating on for so long, but early signs indicate he’s well on his way to that lofty, rarified level. That these comparisons are even being made is of credit to him; that he is very much his own player will ensure, whatever happens, that Iniesta will remain Iniesta and Isco, Isco.