Tactics: The Dawn of a New Partnership between Isco and Lopetegui

A new partnership is about to bloom at the Santiago Bernabéu; one that has previously flourished in the youth divisions of the Spanish national team. Julen Lopetegui has already met plenty of recognizable faces during his maiden pre-season campaign as Real Madrid’s manager. One player that he is already familiar with as trusts to carry out his game plan is still on vacation after participating in the 2018 World Cup. Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez who is popularly known as Isco has had some stellar moments with the Real Madrid badge emblem on his chest. This upcoming season will be his biggest test yet and he’s at crossroad in his career as the young playmaker is entering his prime. He will have a major role in a post Ronaldo era for Los Blancos with Lopetegui once again entrusting the attacking midfielder after their success together with Spain’s youth sides.

Spain travelled to Israel 18 months ago, enroute to their securing a place to compete in the World Cup. The then head coach of the national team found himself in the company of some familiar faces; David De Gea, Marc Bartra, Koke, Nacho, Isco and others. This was some years the same group won the Under-21 European Championships in 2013. Their qualification game was held in the same stadium where they triumphed 4-2 over Italy to be crowned European championships. Lopetegui is a manager that employs trust and confidence with players that he has a history of working with. When Isco burst into the spotlight at the Under-21 set up, Lopetegui quickly spot the forte that the diminutive midfielder possessed and soon got the best out of him. He devised a style of play where Isco was given the task to control the tempo of their attack and dictate their play as an on-field general. Five years later with the senior team, saw a rebirth of Lopetegui’s schemes with Isco once again placed at the crux of their front line. The ex-Malaga player was given the task of being the spearhead of Spain’s patient possession and dictation the pace of the game. The Ex-Spanish manager was backed Isco to be the best possible version of himself. He is at his best when a manager loosens the reigns to give him the freedom to let the game come to him.

Isco was the standout player of the Under-21 Euros and soon after signed a 5 year deal with Real Madrid after a successful spell at Malaga. Expectations heighted and the pressure obviously intensified as the young playmaker stepped onto a bigger platform. He was destined for bigger things given his exposure to best players and managers in the world. Isco has never lacked with time on the pitch though his role and importance on the field has varied. His best run of games came in the second half of the 2016-17 season under Zinedine Zidane. Isco was used an advanced playmaker in the Frenchmen’s 4-3-1-2 formation making him the vital link between the midfield and forward players. Los Blancos battled to 33rd La Liga title and a second straight Champions League trophy as Isco had an improved second half to their campaign. He had hardly stepped onto the pitch for much of Real Madrid’s run in Europe though the Isco was their marquee player in the Semi-Finals and Finals against Atletico Madrid and Juventus. It would appear that his glitzy performances in the knockout stages of the Champions League would guarantee him a significant role in what would be Zizou’s last season as manager. Once again, Zidane put further faith in the likes of Asensio and Lucas Vasquez and he tweaked his formation once again to a more orthodox 4-4-2. Isco was forced to play out of position as either a winger or deep-lying playmaker where is abilities were underutilized. 

“During the times where I haven’t been key for my club, Lopetegui has given my all of his trust”

These were Isco’s first words when he found out that the former Under-21 coach would move back to Madrid to take the helm at the Bernabéu. This was not the first time where Isco had praised Lopetegui. He had made it clear over the past 18 months that he wished to see a greater role with the Meringues – similar to the key part he had played in Spain’s successful qualification for the World Cup. Back in November 2017, Lopetegui had publically praised Isco and stated that the best of the attacking midfielder had to yet to come. Now, the 51 year old manager has the opportunity to guide him to the next level.  

The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo leaves a vacancy alongside Luka Modric for players who lead by example. And in recent years, we’ve seen Isco as his best when he’s given the freedom to operate in-between the midfield and attack. Isco has enjoyed this luxury in recent months while donning the colors of La Roja. He was able to dictate his play and position, choosing to roam freely between the lines. He had the full trust of Lopetegui to either drift into the final-third from the flanks or receive the ball and quickly turn to lead a counter attack. Isco’s creativity and vision will become a key weapon in the months and years going forward from here.

The two have maintained a great relationship on and off the pitch over the years as they both ascended through the ranks of the national team setup. Their trusting bond in one another will be key for the upcoming season as there is a vacant hole with the alpha dog at Real Madrid. This is definitely the most demanding job of Lopetegui’s career. The Los Blancos faithful have been to turn on even the most esteemed managers and players at the drop of the hat. One would not be surprised that Lopetegui could will likely be out of his depth for the first few months of this tenure at Madrid. Having a core of players who know how he operates who have his back in troubled times should ease his transition back into club football will help matter a lot. Isco’s free role will be fundamental for their upcoming campaign and deciding tight games. Lopetegui has possibly been the sole manager to have complete faith and trust in the playmaker’s abilities. It is time to see whether he’ll repay in full to allow Isco to blossom.

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