Debunking the Myth of “Isco’s Missing Minutes” – A Deep Dive Analysis

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 20: Isco Alarcon of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 20, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 20: Isco Alarcon of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 20, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images)
(Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images) /

Looking at the Data

One can certainly find substantial data to back up the claim that Isco is not getting as many minutes as he deserves.

When compared to some of the top attacking midfielders across the globe, Isco is certainly lagging behind.  Isco’s minutes in the league pale in comparison to Manchester City’s David Silva, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli.

All of these players are sitting at over 2000 minutes, whereas Isco is hovering at around 1200.

However, this comparison also points to some of the problems with the “Isco’s Missing Minutes” myth.  While Isco would almost certainly be able to walk into the starting eleven on squads like Napoli or Spurs, it’s less certain that he would be able to displace the likes of David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne at City or Hazard at Chelsea.

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It’s probably true that his chances for minutes would be greater at City or Chelsea than it would be at Real Madrid, but that’s not the same as saying Isco would have a guaranteed spot.

And while any of these squads would be a fine place to play football, none of them are super clubs in the vein of Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern. This means that while Isco would be more likely to get playing time, he would be less likely to win the kinds of silverware that Real Madrid offer.

A comparison with these kinds of super clubs reveals a slightly better idea of the kinds of expectations we might have of Isco’s minutes.

Isco’s missing minutes seems more reasonable when compared to the league minutes of other attacking midfielders like Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta from Barca, Arjen Robben from Bayern, and Miralim Pjanic from Juventus, (Robben here, like Hazard above, is perhaps is better labeled an attacking winger, but is still considered by many to be an attacking midfielder).

It is true that both Iniesta and Robben (and to a lesser degree Pjanic), have spent some time on the injury list this season, dragging their minutes down. Nevertheless, when compared to other “super clubs” who are fighting for multiple trophies every season, Isco’s league minutes don’t seem as unreasonable.

Another apt comparison is to look at other big clubs (although perhaps not at super club levels) with versatile midfields. Here, compare Isco’s minutes to those of Chelsea midfielders Willian and Pedro, and PSG Midfielders Angel Di Maria and Marco Verratti.

All of these players are well under the 2,000 minute mark in their respective leagues. Each of these players are important members of their respective squads, who may or may not start a given match depending on the tactical and rotational needs of their coach.

"Isco’s minutes are still on the low side, comparatively."

But the difference is not quite as outrageous as the seemingly constant uproar about Isco’s minutes might betray.

We see a similar distribution when we compare Isco’s minutes to the likes of Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, Manchester United’s Juan Mata, and Dortmund’s Marco Reus.

Isco is sitting below all of these quality players, with the exception of the oft-injured Reus. But the gap between his league minutes and these top notch, if not “Top-5-in-the-world” midfielders, isn’t immense.

Perhaps the most important comparison to be made is with other midfielders in Real Madrid’s squad itself. Here, I believe, we begin to see the best arguments against the common applications of the “Isco’s missing minutes” myth.

Take, for example, the following comparison of the minutes distribution in La Liga between Isco and Madrid’s top midfielders.

I have included James Rodriguez here despite the fact that he has largely been a bit player for Zidane this season because he is the type of galactico-esque player one would expect to be a top choice for Real Madrid’s midfield.

Toni Kroos is, of course, getting close to the 2,000 minute mark in the league. Besides him, however, most of Madrid’s players are sitting at under 1,500.  Isco has played more minutes in the league than Casemiro, and nearly double the amount of minutes as James.

Of course, for a good chunk of this season Zidane did not have Casemiro and Modrić at his disposal, but nonetheless, the numbers indicate that Isco is certainly finding his way into Madrid’s lineup this season, one way or another.

An even more apt comparison is between Isco and Real Madrid’s bit players in the midfield.

When it comes to minutes distributed to Madrid’s substitutes, Isco is leading the pack ahead of Lucas Vázquez, Mateo Kovačić, Marco Asensio, and James.

For the most part, Isco is the first man off the bench, and the first person in Zidane’s lineup when one of his choice midfielders of Kroos, Modrić, and Casemiro are absent.