Liverpool vs Real Madrid: Isco will provide just as great a threat at Anfield as the injured Gareth Bale would have

The Spaniard Isco will be amongst Real Madrid's attacking talents in the absence of the Welshman

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The Independent Football

While losing Gareth Bale through injury is a blow for Real Madrid, Liverpool supporters should not jump too high for joy ahead of Wednesday’s big Champions League clash at Anfield with the former Tottenham Hotspur man’s likely replacement capable of causing just as many problems.

The Welshman will not face Brendon Rodgers’ side owing to a gluteal muscle injury that he suffered on international duty and that kept him on the bench for Madrid’s 5-0 victory over Levante at the weekend. As the scoreline suggests, however, the European champions did not struggle in his absence and Isco, the man who got a rare start in his place, produced a man of the match performance.

Madrid confirmed Bale’s injury setback on Monday and he could be sidelined for the next two weeks, meaning he will also miss Saturday’s Clásico clash against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabéu. One man’s loss is another man’s gain and in Isco, Carlo Ancelotti has a player who is hungry to take his chance and eager to show he is capable of being a regular start in a star-studded team.

Ancelotti has showed so far that the former Malaga man, who was linked with moves to Liverpool and Manchester City over the summer, is not currently part of his first-choice eleven but is a crucial cog in his squad given the amount of silverware Madrid is aiming for this term.

Nothing will dislodged the ‘BBC’ of Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the regular three-pronged attack while the £71 million fee for Colombian World Cup star James Rodriguez ensures his starting role alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield.

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Bale is out injured

 

Isco, as well as fellow talented Spanish youngster Asier Illarramendi, were brought in for a big fee last summer but although Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso moved away from the Spanish capital this year, the likes of James and Kroos came in and the Spanish duo’s time on the pitch continued to be limited at the start of the campaign.

As the matches have built up, however, and the injuries and fatigue have already crept in, Ancelotti has started to utilise his whole squad and Isco has taken advantage. The Spanish under-21 international took a leading role in Madrid’s seventh consecutive win in all competitions in Valencia, scoring one and providing one assist to out-shine even  the freescoring Ronaldo in the five-star showing and prompt calls for a more regular starting role.

‘Pressure on Ancelotti’ said Spanish sports newspaper ‘Marca’ in regards to Isco knocking on the door for a place in the Italian’s first eleven. ‘Isco offers talent and work to convince the coach’. A selection headache was in store for the former Chelsea manager but that headache is no longer with Bale out and Isco’s performance against Levante all-but guaranteeing him a starting role in his place.

He may not offer the raw pace that Bale does, nor the powerful strikes from long-distance, but he offers skill, creativity, energy, and a slightly more defensive output that the world’s most expensive player.

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Ancelotti with his squad

 

That is not to say he lacks pace, however, and he showed he is a key cog in Madrid’s famed counter-attack by breaking away and setting up Ronaldo’s second goal at the weekend. Nor is it to suggest his cannot pack a punch in the shooting stakes, as his  first goal of the season on Saturday showed. While Bale works best with plenty of space, Isco can operate just as well with a lack of it, offering a new dimension to Madrid’s attacking play.

He will likely line up in a 4-4-2, one that has been implemented on rare occasions last season with success, and one that has been implemented more often this season when Madrid do not have the ball.

The former Malaga player should line-up on the right of a midfield four, with James on the left and Kroos and Modric in the middle. He was on the left of a midfield three at the weekend, with the Colombian occupying Bale’s position, but a tougher match on a European night at Anfield suggests Ancelotti will take a slightly more conservative approach.

 

Isco’s play may be all about his attack but something key in his integration into his manager’s thoughts is his improvement in defence, too. Knowing that he will not break through Madrid’s ‘BBC’, nor force Ancelotti to change from his favoured 4-3-3 to play behind a lone striker, the Italian has not hidden his thoughts about Isco having to help out defensively. It was something drilled into Di Maria with great success, although the Argentine already enjoyed a greater work ethic in tracking back and helping his team.

Now Isco has his greatest chance to show that he can be a crucial player for Madrid from the start, and not just from the bench, with matches at Liverpool and potentially against Barcelona on Saturday night, too. He has already provided four assists, the most in Madrid’s squad alongside Toni Kroos, who has started eight games compared to Isco’s three in La Liga and will be hungry for more as he looks to live up to the hype that he achieved at the start of last season before Bale’s big-money arrival forced him down the pecking order.

It is four years to the week that Bale scored his stunning hat-trick for Tottenham against Inter Milan at the San Siro, a performance that took him from a star on the Premier League stage to the European, and probably put him on Madrid’s radar. That kind of talent will be a miss for Madrid at Anfield but Rodgers, a self-confessed fan of the Spanish passing game, will know all too well that Isco will pose a similarly big threat on Wednesday night.

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