It might have been the Copa del Rey, not La Liga, and it might have been Olimpic Xativa, not Barcelona, but the feeling towards Isco from the Bernabeu crowd on Wednesday night was similar.
He left the field of play after 70 minutes, replaced by Karim Benzema, to chants of “ISCOOO” ringing around Real Madrid’s famous old ground.
Isco off to big cheers from Madrid fans who like him, Benzema on to a few murmurs of welcome.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) December 18, 2013
But while the Madrid fans fell for his charm from day one, when he scored a late winner against Real Betis, Carlo Ancelotti has been slightly—only slightly—harder to win round.
That may sound harsh, given the amount of football Isco has played, but until Sami Khedira’s injury it seemed as if the Italian manager had settled on a midfield three which saw the former Malaga man sidelined.
Isco was an unused substitute in the defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou in October, having also started the previous match at home to Juventus on the bench, returning to the line-up for the next match against Sevilla.
He found himself back in the dugout, unused on both occasions, for the following matches against Rayo Vallecano and Juventus though, before making a fleeting 15-minutes appearance against Real Sociedad before November’s international break.
In that international break Khedira got injured and, as a result, Isco has returned to look a part of Ancelotti’s choice 11.
And in the seven games he’s featured in since returning to the side, he’s began to look like the Isco that the Madrid fans witnessed for his first six matches in the Spanish capital this season.
A goal and an assist on debut against Betis were a good start, with a brace against Athletic Bilbao and further goals against Galatasaray and Getafe capping a fine start to his Los Blancos career.
It was in stark contrast to what followed in the following six matches.
The 2012 Golden Boy failed to register a goal or an assist, as he perhaps felt the effects of so many games on what are still young legs, it must be remembered.
Spearheading Malaga’s Champions League campaign last season must have been draining—particularly alongside their quest to keep the pace in the league—while he was whisked away in the summer to play a vital part in Spain’s European U21 Championship success.
Fatigue is an obvious answer to why his levels dipped.
Either way, he found himself out the side for Madrid’s most important game of the season in Catalunya and was struggling to get back in the team.
When he did get a chance he was overshadowed by others—not involved in any of the seven goals against Sevilla, nor able to make an impact off the bench in the 5-1 win over Real Sociedad.
“[Isco’s] problem is that he hadn't had any time off and was tired. I've given him a break.”
But like all good players, he was always likely to bounce back.
He returned to the starting line-up with a stellar performance away against Almeria—which featured a goal and an assist—as Ancelotti switched back to 4-2-3-1.
Two more goals and two more assists have followed since that match in Andalusia, including one of each against Osasuna last weekend as he played the chief role in digging his side out of a two goal hole in Pamplona.
With the half-way point in the season nigh, Isco boasts an impressive collection of statistics despite that dip in form around October time—in 20 appearances for Madrid he’s already scored eight goals, while also contributing six assists.
The man who has been compared to Zidane by his manager (h/t Goal.com) has overcome a difficult period and is back on track to write himself into Los Blancos’ history books—not that the fans ever doubted him.