Time for Isco to rediscover his disco against former club

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty ImagesIsco will look to rekindle his early season form against former club Malaga.

If Isco has suffered a dip in form for Real Madrid of late, then what better way to get back to top gear than against his former club Malaga this weekend?

It's fair to say that in Madrid's past three La Liga matches, Isco did not hit the form that wowed the crowds in his opening five or six appearances in the all-white. But to highlight those more recent performances as substandard is a bit harsh. His blistering start to life as a Blanco set the benchmark sky-high and it was always going to be difficult to maintain that week in, week out.

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Nevertheless, and rightly or wrongly, Madrid's sluggish performances -- in the somewhat fortuitous 2-1 win at Elche, the 1-0 home defeat to derby rivals Atletico and the dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 win at Levante -- were put partly down to the midfield maestro not playing like the maestro of the opening matches of the season. Not wholly, of course, but partly.

So early into the season it would be foolish to say Isco has a point to prove, but he can certainly get right back on the horse at the Bernabeu this weekend when he goes up against his former teammates for the first time since making the switch to the capital city in the summer. The spotlight will be on him, no doubt, and he'll be keen to impress.

In his first six Madrid matches in all competitions, Isco scored five goals, produced one assist and took various man of the match accolades. All the praise was deserved. He was outshining the Bernabeu golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo, he was making people question the bucketful of cash thrown at Tottenham Hotspur for Gareth Bale, and he was keeping Mesut Ozil out of the team.

His manager lavished praise on his summer recruit, saying "comparing Isco to Zidane is not a bad thing. He is very close to Zidane with their ability. They have a lot of similarities. Zidane is obviously in a better position to judge and he said Isco isn't there yet, but said he could come close in the future." High praise indeed and perhaps fitting, if getting a little carried away, for the start he made. The pressure of being a Madrid player? What pressure?

He started to feel a bit of that pressure just as the rest of his team did. Scraping a 2-1 win at Primera Division new boys Elche, in controversial circumstances, was followed by a 1-0 home loss against Atleti and a scraping-of-the-barrel win at Levante, 3-2 with Madrid having trailed 2-1 late. Isco was off the pitch when Madrid mounted their comeback and he was rested for the comfortable 4-0 Champions League win against Copenhagen, making just a 20-minute appearance from the bench.

Changes in personnel haven't helped his cause. Bale was rushed into action, Ozil departed for the Premier League, and Carlo Ancelotti is seemingly not settled on his preferred pair in the middle of the park. Luka Modric? Sami Khedira? Asier Illarramendi? Madrid are not yet the fluent machine Carletto had hoped, but these things take time.

The 21-year-old almost single-handedly pulled Los Merengues through some of their scrappy opening matches, and although Madridistas will be hoping for a more team-built performance against the Andalusians, Isco will no doubt be looking to steal the show against his former employers. Most players usually do.

On the flip side, Malaga know all about their former star, and for that he could be in for, shall we say, some special treatment to nullify his attacking threat. Isco is already the most fouled player in La Liga so far this season with 27 fouls being committed against him in the first eight domestic matches of the campaign. Madrid, and indeed Isco, can at least take heart from the fact that in the game where he was fouled the most, 10 against Real Betis in the opening match of the season, the midfielder created a goal and then scored what turned out to be the winner in a man of the match performance.

Isco has fond memories of his time on the south coast. Not only did he score in Malaga's 3-2 win over Madrid at La Rosaleda last season, but he called the tune in their Champions League quarterfinal tie against Borussia Dortmund, where Malaga missed out on a place in the last four to the eventual finalists in dramatic fashion. With Malaga leading 2-1 going into the last minute, Dortmund scored twice to progress and leave Malaga heartbroken.

With player sales and a ban on European involvement hitting Malaga this season, few are expecting Bernd Schuster's men to pull up any trees again this term. Sitting mid-table going into this weekend's game, they'll no doubt be lifted by a trip to the Bernabeu and they'll fancy their chances given Madrid's stuttering start. Three draws from their first four away matches of La Liga shows Los Boquerones will be a tough nut to crack and Madrid will need their best nutcrackers at the ready.

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