While Gareth Bale is fully expected to regain his place in the Real Madrid side when he returns from injury, teammate Isco is making the most of his chance to prove his worth on the pitch.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has made it clear that a fit Bale, who became the world’s most expensive player when he joined Real in 2013, will always be in his preferred starting line-up in a three-pronged attack with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
However, Madrid-based sports newspapers have been mounting something of an anti-Bale, pro-Isco campaign in recent weeks, criticising the Welshman for not helping out more in defence while praising Isco’s work rate.
Whether the accusations are fair or not, Isco has grabbed his chance to show Ancelotti what he is capable of and the 22-year-old was given a rousing ovation when he was substituted after a fine performance in last weekend’s “Clasico” against Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
Bale’s position in the team may not yet be under threat but if he suffers a dip in form he may, at the very least, find himself being replaced in the second half of matches more often than he would like.
Real have not said when Bale, who is sidelined with a buttock muscle strain and last played in the 5-0 La Liga win over Athletic Bilbao on October 5, might return but he is unlikely to be ready for Tuesday’s Champions League Group B game at home to Liverpool.
Ancelotti gave Isco an effusive hug and kiss when he came off in the “Clasico” and again praised the Spain playmaker after Wednesday’s Copa del Rey win at Cornella.
“He is on good form and is loved by the fans,” Ancelotti told a news conference.
“He’s switched on, gets around the pitch and is enjoying his best form since joining Real Madrid,” added the Italian.
“We hope he can keep it up, with the same rhythm and with the same attitude.”
Isco was one of the hottest properties on the market at the end of the 2012/13 season after starring for Malaga as they came within a whisker of reaching the Champions League semi-finals.
After joining Real for a fee of around €27 million (Dh124.8m), however, things have not gone according to plan with Ancelotti settling on a 4-3-3 formation in which there has been no place for Isco, particularly since the arrival in the close season of Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez.
Real, who trail Barcelona and Sevilla by a point in La Liga, travel to Granada on Saturday when Isco will likely have another opportunity to impress.
Barca play at home to Celta Vigo later on Saturday, before Sevilla play at Bilbao on Sunday.
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