Isco has disappeared

After being subbed off at half time in the defeat to Cádiz last week, Isco has not made the squad for the last two matches against Shakhtar and Barcelona.

Isco lleva dos encuentros sin contar para Zidane.

“We are all in the same boat and criticism makes us stronger. We know we are Madrid and there is criticism after a game like the one the other day. We can only get back to work. The good thing is that there is a game every three days. We deserved the criticism the other day, and me before anyone – not just the players, they fight. We want to change the dynamics. I have no doubts about anything. The other day was a bad day, we want to change things, Isco more than anyone, I have no doubts.”

Last Tuesday, Zinedine Zidane defended both Marcelo and Isco at the press conference prior to the Champions League opener against Shakhtar. The pair had been singled out after Madrid's 1-0 home defeat against Cádiz a week ago. Isco was one of four changes Zidane made at half-time, along with Lucas Vázquez, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos (the last due to injury).

Marcelo bounced back to start against Shakhtar, but there has been no sign of Isco. It is true that his stats from the Cádiz game did not leave a lot to be desired: the Malaga-born midfielder lost eight balls in the 45 minutes he played, and did not recover one.

As a result, Isco watched the match against Shakhtar from the stands. It seemed that he could have had minutes in el Clásico, but Zidane again left him out. So far, he has played just 148 minutes this season. He was a starter in the season’s opener against Valladolid and later against Cádiz, while in the outings against Betis and Levante he was left on the bench.

Isco's struggles for continuity at Real Madrid

Isco has started his eighth season at Madrid, but has enjoyed very little continuity. He has not played two consecutive full league games since October-November 2017. Then, he played in the defeat against Girona (2-1), the victory against Las Palmas (3-0) and the goalless draw in the derby against Atlético Madrid.

Since then he has participated in 72 league matches, and has only finished six. What is most striking is that he has participated in four of the 11 Clásicos with Zidane; what is most significant is that he started in the two Madrid-Barcelona clashes last season.

Zidane asks more of Isco

Zidane doesn’t seek to separate or alienate his players, but rather to protect them in bad times, as a good spiritual father should. But he demands commitment, struggle, sweat and effort – which is what Zizou asks of Isco.

Since Isco’s presentation in 2016, Zidane has always valued him positively ("James and Isco are essential for me," he said at the time). He is pictured in the photo of the starting eleven in the 2017 Champions finals against Juventus in Cardiff (4-1) and a year later, in 2018 in Kiev against Liverpool (3-1). However, his response to the coach’s confidence has sometimes not been up to scratch.

Ramos himself pointed it out at the conclusion of el Clásico on Saturday: “The victory? It has been the defensive work of the group. We have run, we have suffered, and well there is the result. It is the line that we must reach and maintain throughout the season. In the end, in football there are things that cannot be negotiated such as attitude and intensity. And the team has put in the maximum from the beginning to the end.”

It is a warning from the captain, and from the coach, to the entire squad: if you want to win titles again, intensity is non-negotiable. In the meantime, Zidane is protecting Isco from criticism, but the captain's message must stick with him: intensity, attitude and hard work.