Real Madrid: Isco’s start inspires comparison with legendary Zidane
Posted Saturday, September 28 2013 at 01:00
For once, the hype was at least partially justified. In his first six games in the famous white shirt, Isco scored five goals, provided two assists and generally controlled the midfield with a fabulous combination of relentless energy, mazy dribbling and accurate passing.
Not bad for a 21-year-old new arrival seeking to make his mark at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Asked about the comparison with his assistant, boss Ancelotti chuckled: “I asked Zidane if he agrees and he said ‘No, not yet. But he could be very close in the future.’
“He is very similar in terms of ability and mentality. For Isco to be compared with Zidane is not bad after the few games he has played.”
Isco rose to international prominence with Malaga last season, playing a starring role in the Andalusian club’s unlikely progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they came an injury-time offside goal away from ousting Borussia Dortmund.
The midfielder’s outstanding performances earned him the 2012 Golden Boy award for the best young player in Europe, and also inevitably sparked serious interest from many of Europe’s leading clubs - including Manchester City, whose new coach Manuel Pellegrini tried desperately hard to take Isco with him from Malaga to Lancashire.
In the end, though, a personal phone call from Zidane while Isco was on under-21 duty during Spain’s triumphant European Championship campaign this summer was enough to do the trick and persuade him to join Madrid for €30m - a fee that is already looking like a bargain.
Aside from Isco’s undoubted magnificence, however, not everything is rosy at the Bernabeu as Ancelotti’s men prepare to welcome high-flying local rivals Atletico for Saturday night’s Madrid derby.
Although there have been some scintillating passages of play, the general level of Real’s performances has been far from convincing and they have not yet settled into a discernible playing method under their new Italian manager.
Controversial Elche win
That was especially the case in their most recent outing on Wednesday night, when they laboured to an exceptionally fortunate 2-1 victory at newly promoted Elche thanks to a controversial penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo, awarded by referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez in the fourth minute of added time even though only three additional minutes had been signalled.
After Wednesday’s poor performance, Ancelotti admitted: “If we play like that, we won’t win the derby.” And among the former Chelsea manager’s chief concerns is his team’s worrying habit of starting games slowly - they have conceded first in three of their six league games and could have easily done so again at Elche.
Another big worry for Ancelotti is the decidedly underwhelming form of striker Karim Benzema, whose struggles at international level - he hasn’t scored for France since June 2012 - are now starting to be transferred to his club outings. Benzema has registered just two league goals so far this season and has been jeered by significant sections of the Bernabeu crowd.
Although Ancelotti has stayed loyal, insisting he remains happy with the Frenchman’s contributions, there are growing calls for youngster Alvaro Morata to be elevated into the starting line-up. If Benzema doesn’t resume scoring soon, that will surely happen.
At the other end of the pitch, Ancelotti has to deal with an ongoing goalkeeping controversy following his decision to continue the policy of predecessor Jose Mourinho by favouring Diego Lopez over club captain Iker Casillas, who remains revered by the club’s global legion of fans.
Although Lopez has done absolutely nothing to warrant losing his place - on the contrary, he has made a series spectacular saves, especially to salvage a 2-2 draw at Villarreal - the issue remains a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode as soon as Lopez makes his first costly mistake.
And then there’s Gareth Bale. The Welshman was forced to pull out of his scheduled home debut after suffering a minor thigh injury during the warm-up of last weekend’s meeting with Getafe, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll recover in time for Saturday’s derby.