Real Madrid vs. PSG: The case for Isco to start in the second leg

Real Madrid, Isco (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Isco (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

PSG will be visiting Santiago Bernabéu this Wednesday to decide the fate of this tie against Real Madrid, in the all-important second leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

There are a lot of narratives at play. Sergio Ramos will be returning to the Bernabéu, not to face his former club Real Madrid, but as a supporter of PSG. Lionel Messi, the ex-Barcelona talisman, returns to a ground where he has scored 15 goals in all competitions – more than at any other ground as a visitor. Kylian Mbappé has fractured his foot during a training session today and is almost ruled out. 

With Toni Kroos a doubt for the game and Casemiro out through suspension, a lot of talk is going around regarding Real Madrid’s midfield on the day. One can easily predict that Eduardo Camavinga will slot in for Casemiro while Fede Valverde will occupy Toni Kroos’ spot.

What if I told you Isco could be a very good option in midfield in the 2nd leg?

What can Isco bring to the table for Real Madrid?

Isco has played only 342 minutes this season across 14 appearances. It is safe to say that the Spaniard has performed well whenever he has been given a chance. In my opinion, Isco can do wonders if he is given a chance to start against PSG. Using him in the starting XI alongside Luka Modrić and one of Camavinga/Valverde could be one of the ways to integrate him in the lineup.

This also allows one of Camavinga/Valverde to come off the bench in the 2nd half and take advantage of the tired PSG legs. Isco is an extremely good passer of the ball. He also has the ability to help the build-up from deep and is adept at finding his way out of tight spaces. His superior attacking traits compared to Kroos can give Los Blancos something more in the final third.

A 4-4-2 formation shouldn’t be ruled out either. We are no strangers to the fact that Real Madrid can make the most of Isco’s talents when he plays with freedom at the top of the midfield diamond, accompanied by the able trio of Modrić-Fede-Camavinga behind him. We can expect Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior to carry the burden of the forwardline. They have built a brilliant chemistry this season.

While Isco carries the experience of being a key member of at least 2 of the 4 Champions Leagues he has clinched with Real Madrid, it must also be noted that PSG might be caught off-guard with the inclusion the attacking midfielder in the starting XI. I am sure Mauricio Pochettino will expect a Modrić-Fede-Camavinga midfield trio (considering Kroos will not make the squad). Throwing Isco in there will be a big curveball for PSG.

Isco is the best option for Real Madrid to make up for Kroos’ absence

As I mentioned earlier in this article, Isco is a very good passer. That, in combination with great dribbling, make Isco one of the most eye-pleasing midfielders on his day. One of the things we learned in the 1st leg against PSG was that Real Madrid just couldn’t get the ball in the final third. They registered just 3 shots all night – none of them on target. Anyway, here are a few interesting stats of Isco from the last 365 days (in the top 5 European leagues):

Carries per 90: 67.83 (98th percentile)
Total Carrying Distance per 90: 414.13 (99th percentile)
Progressive Carrying Distance per 90: 223.04 (99th percentile)
Progressive Carries per 90: 10.04 (99th percentile, highest for any player across the top 5 European Leagues in the last year)
Carries into Final Third per 90: 3.13 (98th percentile)
Carries into Penalty Area per 90: 0.65 (98th percentile)
Key Passes per 90: 2.22 (98th percentile)
Shot Creating Actions per 90: 4.30 (99th percentile)

The above stats clearly show that Isco can be a handy option in midfield to not only help with ball progression, but also to create some much-needed danger in the final third. I firmly believe that starting Isco will not be a decision Carlo Ancelotti will regret. Isco is a big-game player in the UCL, and the added bonus of playing in front of the home support will boost his confidence.

Next. Real Madrid vs. PSG Combined XI. dark

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Let’s see what happens, though. Kroos may or may not make it to the squad. But I do hope that Real Madrid can hand PSG a welcome surprise in the form of Isco. Trailing 1-0, Real Madrid have nothing more to lose anyway. But a lot can be gained, probably, if Isco runs circles around the PSG midfield.