Luka Modric may not always dominate the headlines but his importance to the Real Madrid side cannot be understated. His absence is a big blow to Ancelotti’s men but Real Madrid fans will be heartened by the fact that fan favourite Isco Alarcon is more than ready to slot into the role says Miran Saric.
It would be quite natural for the Real Madrid fan base to panic and sweat profusely after the injury sustained by Luka Modric in the International break. After all, Modric is arguably the finest all-around midfielder in the world and his influence on games is massive, from fighting for balls in his final third to transitioning the team from defense to offense, the diminutive Croatian’s importance to the team is far greater than his size. However, Real Madrid fans should take solace in the fact that they have a brilliant prodigy waiting to slot into the lineup given Modric’s absence, a youngster who’s one of the rising stars for both club and country: Isco Alarcon.
Isco’s Real Madrid career started in a shroud of confusion given that Mesut Ozil was the existing playmaker at the club, but once the latter was sold to Arsenal, Isco got off to a blistering start. Game winning goals, decisive assists, shows of incredible flair, Isco was off to a great start while the team around him was severely lacking balance. Carlo Ancelotti, ever the big-picture man, eventually had to make a change for the sake of equilibrio and Isco was the casualty as the Italian moved to a 4-3-3 with Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria occupying the middle three. Just like that, Isco’s time as a starter came to an end. However, Ancelotti clearly saw Isco’s immense talent and potential to influence the game in all parts of the pitch and embarked on a mission to transform him into a more complete midfielder, someone who could not only wreak havoc in an attacking capacity but also battle for lost balls and control the pace of the game. A shuttler in the mold of Luka Modric, the man he’ll now likely have to replace for the next few weeks.
Isco is known for his flair and dribbling verve, but since Ancelotti’s taken it upon himself to transform him into more of a central midfielder, his defensive game has taken a massive leap forward. In quantitative terms, he’s averaging a combined 3.6 interceptions + tackles per game while only notching one foul per game. While this might not amount to much when compared to a defensive midfielder or a natural deeper central midfielder, one has to consider that Isco carved his career as a wide player/attacking midfielder – he’s still a work in progress but all signs point to a career in the deeper part of the midfield. A prime example of his defensive awareness and maturity was evident in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona last season where he picked up a yellow card in the third minute, adjusted his game and won an astounding 9 tackles and 2 interceptions while helping Real Madrid take down their bitter rivals. Given that he was facing Barcelona, a side looking to frustrate the opposition through its sheer possession advantage, his calm demeanor was immense and he played an important part in Madrid’s win
Offensively, there’s hardly a drop-off from Modric to Isco and one can argue that Madrid will gain another strong force in the final third. Though Isco doesn’t have Modric’s experience and total command of the game (yet), he’s much more comfortable in the final third, whether through shooting or distributing for others. While his minutes are much less than those of the guaranteed starters in the BBC and James Rodriguez, he already has five assists to his name which is the second most in the club. Of the starters who have logged at least 500 minutes, he’s third in pass success only behind human metronome Toni Kroos and the aforementioned Modric, so he’s more than capable of handling the offense in the opposition’s half or on the counterattack, as seen in his effort to win the ball back from Andres Iniesta and launch the attack versus Barcelona in the most recent Clasico. Last season, when he spent half of it as a central midfielder, he still managed to log 11 goals and nine assists.
Numbers aside, his main offensive impact can be felt when looking at how his presence influences others, namely attacking fullback Marcelo. Marcelo is of course a marauding full-back who spends most of his time in the opponent’s half, thus leaving an exploitable gap behind him. Given that Cristiano Ronaldo is not one to drop back and cover said gap for 90 minutes, it’s usually the responsibility of the left midfielder to play this role. While James Rodriguez is capable of doing this, Isco’s more refined game and work ethic permits Marcelo to move forward where he can use his years of experience alongside Ronaldo to split defenses at the same time allowing Madrid to stay compact at the back. Thus, Isco not only individually influences the match but his presence allows those around him to play with more freedom knowing that his support adds another element for the opposition to try and solve.
When it comes to replacing Modric, it’s a tall task for Ancelotti as to who he should deputize alongside Kroos and Rodriguez. He could opt for the industrious Sami Khedira who can influence play throughout the pitch or go with Asier Illarramendi for his defensive nous and steady presence shielding the back four. However, the most like-minded replacement for Modric providing dynamic play and control of the game has to be Isco. He showed that he’s able to rise to the biggest occasions in his showings against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and, more recently, Liverpool and Barcelona again. Given that Madrid’s schedule eases up a little bit with only tricky fixtures against Malaga and Celta Vigo during the period that Modric will miss, Carlo Ancelotti should be able to breathe easily owing largely to the fact that his young starlet will seamlessly slot into the role as he further cements his Real Madrid future.
Written by Miran Saric