Real Madrid supporters collectively held their breath when midfielder Luka Modric was ruled out for three to four months after suffering a hip injury on international duty in November.
The Croatian was vital to manager Carlo Ancelotti’s side, providing a creative playmaking presence and tactical awareness in the center of the pitch for a team which would go on to win a Copa del Rey and Champions League title last season.
With Modric sidelined for an extended period of time the question was asked: ‘Which Real Madrid player will be able to fill the shoes of the influential midfielder?”
It didn’t take long for that player to step up.
Next to Cristiano Ronaldo, no player has been more important to Real Madrid’s success so far this season than Isco.
The Spain international has come under his share of criticism from supporters since his arrival in June 2013. But this season, Isco has answered his detractors while showing he can handle the responsibilities of an all-around midfielder.
The 22-year-old has adjusted from his all-out attacking mindset to a more practical and tactical way of playing. He’s put in more of a shift in defense for the club, while still providing the creative threat Madrid needs going forward.
This weekend against Elche, Isco received a rarity in Spanish football – a standing ovation from the away support.
His performances of late have not gone unnoticed by the manager or his teammates.
“He’s playing really well game in, game out, bringing a lot of quality and intensity,” Carlo Ancelotti said during his post-press conference on Sunday.
While goalkeeper Iker Casillas took his praise even further: “He’s going to be Spanish football’s next big thing. We have to look after him and he’s got to stay focused because too much flattery can weaken players.”
His former coach with Spain’s Olympic team, Luis Milla, also remarked on the player’s rapid development this season.
“He’s performing extraordinarily well,” Milla told the Spanish publication MARCA. We knew how imaginative and creative he is on the ball. That led to him playing for Spain and joining Real Madrid, but now we’re seeing another side to his game – his movement off the ball and his defensive work.”
After stumbling at the start of the New Year, Real Madrid have found their feet and are grinding out results both domestically and in Europe. While other players performance levels have dipped and waned, Isco has remained the one constant in Ancelotti’s squad.
With Modric expected to return to the lineup in March, and Real Madrid boasting a wealth of midfielding options with Toni Kroos, Lucas Silva, Aesir Illarramendi and Sami Khedira; Isco will need to show he can consistently perform at this high level if he’s going to keep his spot in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting eleven.
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