MÁLAGA - REAL MADRID

Zidane sets challenge for Isco ahead of Malaga return

“Goals are all that’s missing,” said the coach. Isco was sent off in his last appearance at La Rosaleda.

Zidane sets challenge for Isco ahead of Malaga return
Jesús Aguilera

Isco returns today to his hometown, Malaga, with the encouragement of his coach Zinedine Zidane fresh in his mind. The Frenchman challenged him in yesterday’s pre-match press conference by reminding him that he’s the only regular in midfield that hasn’t yet scored since he replaced Benítez back in January. “Goals are all that’s missing,” he said. James has scored in two games (Espanyol and Athletic), while both Modric and Kroos have scored one each against Granada and Athletic, respectively.

The last time Isco made the scoresheet was back in the Benítez era and the night of the ill-fated Copa tie with Cádiz. He scored a brace but his performance was overshadowed by the drama surrounding Cheryshev’s inclusion in the starting line-up and the club’s eventual expulsion from the tournament. His last goal in the league came at the end of October in the 3-1 win over Las Palmas.

Isco joined Malaga from Valencia in 2011 before making the move to the Bernabéu in 2013 for a hefty €30 million. Today’s match will be his third game back at La Rosaleda in a Madrid shirt and he’ll be hoping things go better today than on his previous two visits. In his first appearance, in March 2014, he came on as a first-half substitute for Benzema and lined up as a false 9. At the start of the second half he found himself one-on-one with Malaga keeper Willy Caballero but fluffed his chance.

His second visit in November last season was even worse. Madrid ended up 2-1 winners but two yellow cards fifteen minutes apart saw him sent to the stands. Television replays of the second challenge showed that he’d touched the ball. Madrid appealed, unsuccessfully, and he was forced to sit out the 3-0 win over Celta the following week.

Zidane is high on Isco and has used him far more than his predecessor. He’s played 466 minutes of a possible 630 under the Frenchman (74%) and has become a key part of the team, rested only for the home match with Athletic after five consecutive matches. There he came on for the final 18 minutes.