Real Madrid face Schalke tonight in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in the Veltins Arena in Germany. The La Liga leaders travel to Germany with Cristiano Ronaldo in tow having missed him in recent games due to a domestic suspension.
Madrid are unbeaten in 27 matches in all competitions, having won 23 of those, so Schalke will be wary of how difficult they will have it this evening. However, they are able to welcome back a star of their own after they managed to keep hold of him during the January transfer window.
Julian Draxler is fit and should play against the Spanish giants this evening after missing several weeks through injury. Schalke nursed him back to fitness and fought off the attentions of Arsenal to keep hold of their young star.
He will be vital for the Germans if they wish to cause a first leg upset over Madrid, but another player who could be key in tonight's match is Isco.
Despite Ronaldo scoring a competition-record 9 goals in the group stages, it is Isco who will demand some attention tonight. His craft, magic touch and eye for a pass have seen him star under Carlo Ancelotti this season after signing from Malaga in the summer.
The young man has years ahead of him but is already showing the type of talent that will keep him at the top of the game for many years to come. Just like Draxler, Isco is seen as one of the most promising attacking midfielders in world football—but who is better?
Using stats and the Comparison Matrix from Squawka, we can find out who has performed better out of the pair this season.
Both players are exceptional in the final third of the pitch—it is where they excel. With such quick feet and clever minds when in possession, it is no surprise to see them both create chances for their team-mates consistently.
In Europe this season, Isco has played five games, just one less than Draxler who featured in all of Schalke's group matches. They both have one assist but the German completed three more key passes than Isco—eight to five. It is surprising to see Isco with such a low number of assists considering the firepower he supplies.
Due to Isco playing a game less, he comes a lot closer to Draxler when we compare their key passes over an average of 90 minutes. The Spaniard completed 1.72 key passes per 90, while Draxler slightly edges in front with 1.74.
Isco's pass completion is better than Draxler's, though, but that could come down to the fact that he plays more centrally than Draxler who is often deployed down the left-hand side of Schalke's attack. Isco has completed 175 compared to Draxler's 167 and his accuracy stands at 90 percent, much better than the German's 81 percent.
Isco averages almost double the number of passes per game than Draxler does. The German has averaged 36.39 passes per 90 minutes, whereas Isco has averaged 60.1—quite a big difference.
To be fair, though, you could pin that on the fact that Madrid are far more likely to dominate their games—and the ball—than Schalke have been able to.
Schalke's young star scored three goals in the group stages which is slightly more than Isco managed (2). Schalke only scored six goals, meaning Draxler was directly involved in four of them (three goals, one assist)—66.6 percent. That's quite a large impact for someone so young and a great statistic, too.
Draxler also comes out on top in the take-on department. He is known for his wonderful dribbling ability and knack of speeding past his opponent with consummate ease. In just six games, he completed 13 take-ons, an average of 2.83 per 90 minutes—a success rate of 81.25 percent, brilliant.
Strangely, Draxler's figures in the Bundesliga are not as impressive as his European ones. With just one goal in the league, he trails Isco's domestic tally by six. Despite playing four games fewer than the Spaniard, that is still a poor return for such a promising talent, especially when you consider his performances in the Champions League.
Draxler is streets behind in terms of chance creation, too, having completed just 15 key passes in 15 matches. Meanwhile, Isco has managed 43 in 19 matches—a huge difference. Funnily enough, Draxler has actually assisted more goals than Isco (4 to 3).
Domestically, Isco comes out on top in most departments, averaging more completed per game and holding a higher accuracy, too. Draxler has averaged 33.6 passes per game in the Bundesliga compared to Isco's 52.66. Again, quite a big gap between the two, but this could also be because Real Madrid will dominate the ball more through Isco's area of the pitch while Draxler is played out wide on the left.
To compare Isco and Draxler is valid but one must also take into account where both players spend most of their time on the pitch.
In Draxler's last match before sustaining his injury, against Borussia Monchengladbach, he played on the left wing and cut inside on his right foot throughout. As you can see in the heat map below, he hugged the left touchline and often dipped inside to try and affect the play more centrally.
Isco, on the other hand, plays straight through the middle. As you can see in his Action Areas map against Celta Vigo, the Spaniard played most of his touches in central areas. This is the key difference as to why Isco may play more passes than Draxler.
The young German is way out in front when it comes to successful take-ons again, though. Draxler has completed 72 in just 15 matches, an average of slightly over five per every 90 minutes. Isco has 43, which is ever so slightly over three per 90 minutes.
Draxler is successful with 76 percent of his take-ons, which is truly fantastic, while Isco completed 51 percent of his attempts.
As you can see, both players are excellent attacking midfielders. They vary in positions from time to time but both Isco and Draxler have shown huge promise this season, especially in the Champions League.
In terms of creativity, they are excellent, but Isco just edges Draxler due to his phenomenal La Liga stats. It is no wonder that these two players are excelling on the big stage and look set for superb futures in the game.
If they play the way they have been all season in tonight's match, there are sure to be plenty of chances and goals for both sides.