Copa Del Rey

Copa Del Rey Slideshow

Barcelona faces 3rd-tier Murcia in last 32 of Copa del Rey

Defending champion Barcelona will play third-division Murcia in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona faces 3rd-tier Murcia in last 32 of Copa del Rey

Defending champion Barcelona will play third-division Murcia in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona faces 3rd-tier Murcia in last 32 of Copa del Rey

Defending champion Barcelona will play third-division Murcia in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona faces 3rd-tier Murcia in last 32 of Copa del Rey

Barcelona faces 3rd-tier Murcia in last 32 of Copa del Rey

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, number 10, celebrates with team mates after an own goal by Sporting's Sebastian Coates during a Champions League, Group D soccer match between Sporting CP and FC Barcelona at the Alvalade stadium in Lisbon, Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Third division Murcia will face the current holders in the fourth round, while Fuenlabrada have been drawn against the reigning La Liga champions

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Third division Murcia will face the current holders in the fourth round, while Fuenlabrada have been drawn against the reigning La Liga champions

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Third division Murcia will face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey fourth round, while Fuenlabrada were drawn with Real Madrid.

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

Barcelona and Real Madrid handed third-tier Copa del Rey tests

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

How to man-mark Lionel Messi: A study in on-pitch harassment 

Man-marking is generally considered an antiquated defensive tactic, but on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo gave a masterclass in how it can work against none other than Lionel Messi on Saturday.  Barcelona may have prevailed 3-0 against fellow Catalan club Girona, but Maffeo did not leave the five-time Ballon D'Or winner's side until he (Maffeo) was substituted in the 78th minute.  Messi failed to score or a register an assist, a credit to Maffeo's display who stuck to the player Pep Guardiola once claimed could not be stopped like glue - even when Girona had possession.  Ironically, it was current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde who masterminded one of the few previous attempts to man-mark the Argentina while he was Athletic Bilbao coach. It did not work, with Messi scoring a sublime solo goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.  One Spanish publication even mocked up a cartoon of Maffeo in bed and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo to satirise just how committed the young defender was to his task.  The realisation After a few minutes of Maffeo chasing his tail, Messi clocks-on to the fact he is being man-marked and shares a word in the Spaniard's ear. Something along the lines of 'surely you'll get bored of this, eventually', we hazard to guess.  Touch-tight As he usually does, Messi drops into midfield to try and create space for Luis Suarez and on this occasion, Alex Vidal, to dart into. Ordinarily, Maffeo would stay in his position and pass Messi on to one of his Girono teammates, but here he stalks his opponent and even gives him a discreet shove in the small of the back.  The sledging starts We know that set-pieces provide a lucid interval in matches for kinds of shirt-pulling, shin-kicking and eye-gouging, and Messi takes the chance to have a word in Maffeo's ear. Messi fixes him with a gaze and a word that lasts long-enough to remind Maffeo he is playing against a legend in his own lifetime.  Deep in coversation Like many footballers, the pair take to talking behind their hands so the cameras cannot pick them up. Perhaps they are comparing notes on Pep Guardiola, perhaps they are chewing the fat over the Catalan Independence referendum. They took appropriate steps to ensure we shall never know.  Mutual respect Messi gives Maffeo a healthy slap on the back after the full-time whistle, like the world champions boxer acknowledging that his challenger put up a decent fight. Perhaps Sporting Lisbon were watching and will employ similar tactics when they face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

Ronald Koeman: Valencia was much worse than Everton 'crisis'

Ronald Koeman has suggested that Everton’s crisis is nothing ­compared to the troubles that ­confronted him when he was ­manager of Valencia. Koeman is facing the biggest challenge of his 15 months as manager at Goodison Park, with the club in the Premier League relegation zone, despite an outlay of more than £140 million in the summer. There has been trouble off the field, too, with Wayne Rooney banned from driving for two years on Monday. The former England captain was rested for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup victory over Sunderland but is likely to return for Saturday’s Premier League home match against Bournemouth, one of only two teams below them in the table. Koeman is confident his ill-fated five-month spell in charge of Valencia a decade ago has more than equipped him for the challenge. It saw the club tumble from the top four towards relegation. In addition, there was chaos off the pitch during Koeman’s time at Valencia, with work beginning on a planned new stadium that was never completed. Koeman was sacked in April 2008, days after winning the Copa del Rey. Premier League manager safety index He said: “You always have tough periods as a manager. You know that you can win today and then lose the next three games. “You can’t compare Valencia with Everton or Southampton or Benfica or PSV because that was ­really difficult and it was a revolution with a new stadium that was not built and still isn’t finished, I ­believe. That was the wrong club at the wrong time.  “But even when it is a negative period it is a learning point. That is OK and no problem now. “It was a bad experience but even a bad experience can be good for the future."

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Isco is one of the world's best players on current form - what does it mean for Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career?

Isco left the pitch to a standing ovation the night he left Italy dizzy. Spain hammered their World Cup qualifying opponents 3-0 earlier in the month, with two of the goals down to the brilliance of the Real Madrid man. Since establishing himself as a first choice in Zinedine Zidane's starting XI last season, Isco has improved to such an extent that he should be considered among the best midfielders in world football. However, Isco's rise could prove troublesome for Gareth Bale, prince of our hearts, the king of Wales. With Marco Asensio pushing for a starting position now too, is Bale even a first choice player at Real Madrid anymore? Why is Isco suddenly amazing? How did Isco get so good? To get the most out of your best players, you need to find the best position for them within a group. Isco needs to have freedom to roam to be able to play his game and Zidane has granted it with his tactical setup. Without that liberty, Isco isn't as good. Restraining him would be like forcing Luis Suarez to play on the wing. Isco struggled to get in the Real Madrid team because there wasn't a suitable position for him in the team shape usually employed over the last several years. During that time, Real Madrid have rarely deviated from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with players purchased to suit these particular systems. Isco can't affect the game quite as much when on the left wing and a 4-2-3-1 depends on having two hard working wingers - not the strong point of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale - which means the team really has to play with three up front and three in midfield to offer support and structure for the attackers. Zidane's 4-3-3 at Real Madrid. This relies on Bale and Ronaldo defending their respective flanks, something they tend not to do. Ronaldo has developed into more of a central striker too, meaning the left wing especially is unprotected in defensive phases of play. Furthermore, Isco leaves his position too often to operate as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3, causing it to lose shape. Zidane had a fix. A former assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, who loves a 4-4-2 diamond, Zidane shaped the team around his players, rather than the players to the shape. Zidane's 4-4-2 diamond formation, the tactical setup which has liberated Isco Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution into a superb central striker means he needs to play in the middle, and to get the most out of him, Karim Benzema has to play alongside as his partner upfront. With two central forwards, the team needs attacking width from elsewhere and in Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, Real Madrid have two of the best wing-backs in the world. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are too excellent not to pick together in central midfield and a defensive anchor, Casemiro, is needed to hold it all together. Under Zidane's management, Casemiro has also developed into one of the world's best defensive midfielders - there is weight to the argument that he is actually Real Madrid's most important player at the moment. With two centre-backs and a goalkeeper, that leaves one position to fill and Zidane really likes Isco. A lot. Real Madrid's attacking shape in the diamond formation. This team shape allows Isco to move where he pleases and is actually fairly similar to the attacking formation that Barcelona would often find themselves in during the Lionel Messi false-nine era. If Isco goes right, left or back, Benzema drops in the hole and this means Ronaldo has space to attack. Defenders are so worried about Ronaldo that they drop back and leave Marcelo free, which in turn creates space for the central midfielders. It's an extremely fluid, hugely attractive, attacking style of play. It suits Isco perfectly and is precisely why he has flourished. On the team sheet, Isco starts as a number 10. In reality, he plays absolutely everywhere.  Technically brilliant, Isco never stops moving and searches constantly for space, always available to receive a pass and possessing an uncanny knack for knowing where the defender is. Spain have noticed and adopted a similar system in their last two qualifiers. Spain's strikerless setup against Italy suits this nomadic style of play, for the same reason that Zidane's 4-4-2 does: positional freedom. Spain have players who understand space and movement and can interchange seamlessly - Italy were lost. Isco was the right winger in a 4-3-3 on Spain's team sheet. Here he is running inside with the ball from the left wing: And a few minutes later, here he is dropping between the centre-backs. And then a few minutes after that, here he is cutting inside from the right wing. Spain's fluid tactical system brings the most out of Isco - in a more rigid setup where players must stay in set positions, he isn't as effective. When trusted to go where he is needed, magic is created. Isco's eye for a pass and dribbling ability make him a fantastic number 10 but it is his sense of movement and desire to be involved that sets him apart from others. You can see from Real Madrid's average positions from the Champions League final against Juventus last season, in which Isco was excellent, that Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco stay close together. This happens in the final third of attacking moves. It's a common theme. By operating in positions near each other, the trio are able to link quick passes together and keep the ball, allowing the wing-backs to fly up the pitch, which then means the entire team can get forward. As the opposition team drops back and the defenders form walls, Isco's darting runs into spaces between players and the lines of defence disrupts a defensive shape and allows Real Madrid to ping the ball around quickly without being predictable. How do you defend against someone who isn't there? Isco goes wherever he sees space and in these passages of play, he has the quickness of mind to pull off outrageous bits of skill like this on Marco Verratti: Momentum is a massive part of sport and Isco is riding a wave of it. He has been liberated on the pitch by Real Madrid and Spain's tactical setups and afforded freedom to experiment with tricks and passes a less confident player might ignore in the interest of safety - as a result, both teams are enjoying the best of him. Bale has a similar freedom to Isco when playing for Wales but is a different sort of player, not quite as naturally skilful or technically proficient but far more powerful and athletic. He can score goals out of nowhere but doesn't see space like Isco - Bale is a British player trying to play the Spanish short-passing, high-tempo game. This is not to say Isco is better than Bale, they are simply different. Isco could not score the solo goal that Bale did in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014, for example: And over the course of a season, Isco may dip in and out of form, suffer an injury or opposition teams might stick a man-marker on him to stop his influence - Zidane will probably have to change things at some point. And in fact, he has already begun tinkering again Playing Bale, Asensio and Isco at the same time Attempts to fit all of Real Madrid's attacking talent in the same starting XI haven't tended to work over the last few seasons and Zidane's successes (and Ancelotti's before him) have been achieved by striking the right balance in the starting XI. Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 for their 2-2 draw with Valencia, a formation Zidane uses when he wants to play on the counter-attack, as he did recently in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.  Asensio is such a talent that Zidane knows he needs to find a way to get him in the team but it must not be at the expense of Real's defensive stability. Valencia's first goal shows the exact problem with playing a midfield full of creative players and three attacking forwards.  Jose Mourinho used to shout at Ronaldo in the Real Madrid dressing room for not performing his defensive duties on Real Madrid's left flank, as it forced the other 10 men to pick up the slack, causing problems for the team's shape as a group. If Ronaldo didn't defend the left-flank, someone else had to come across to support the left-back, which in turn left a gap in midfield. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and was justifiably granted this freedom, but Bale, who does similar on the opposite wing, has not really earned the right to do so. He works hard off the ball but, as is natural for an attacking player, lets things go past him which a defensive-minded player does not. As a result, the team is vulnerable when not in possession. Real Madrid's midfield three in this example is Asensio, Luka Modric and Isco (Asensio has traded positions with Toni Kroos, who you can't see). Carvajal has to deal with the Valencia left winger and the team's defensive shape looks fine. But all is not well! Valencia know that Asensio is not going to offer the kind of support Carvajal will need if they can get more men down that side of the pitch and Toni Lato, the left-back, bombs forward to overlap. Gareth Bale hasn't dropped back to track this run, choosing to wait higher up the pitch in the hopes of counter-attacking the space now left vacant by Lato. But keeping this counter-attack threat leaves Real Madrid exposed. It's a balancing act - the very same that Rafa Benitez was never able to fix during his short spell at the club. Asensio spots the danger and points it out to Carvajal, who is actively defending against two players now while Asensio doesn't actually step in to tackle, or block a run or even put the two Valencia players off. Pointing alone doesn't help in that situation. Luka Modric moves over to that side of the pitch. Casemiro played at centre-back in this game due to Sergio Ramos' suspension and Raphael Varane's absence from the squad. If he were in his usual midfield role, he would likely either have raced across to support Carvajal or held position in front of the defence. Instead, neither job is done. Lato sprints past Carvajal and drives a low ball into the box. Casemiro is drawn towards the forward in his eyeline, which means the cross fizzes behind him and lands at the feet of Carlos Soler, who has run from midfield to tap into an empty net. The score is now 1-1. Zidane fixed the team's vulnerabilities at half-time by taking off Isco for Mateo Kovacic, a more defensive player. Real struggled to really get into the game and ended up drawing 2-2 thanks to some individual magic from Asensio, and the entire team's sub-par performance was surprising given how dominant they'd been recently. The difference in the two games? Isco. In a 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Isco played in that position behind Bale and Benzema from where he can constantly drift and although he didn't directly influence any of the goals, he was involved with build-up play all over the pitch. Against Valencia, Isco was on the left of a central midfield three and hooked at half time after a fairly ineffectual showing. Football is a team game and the team comes first but when Isco is allowed the freedom to express himself as an individual, Real Madrid and Spain are much better. If Zidane and the Spanish team manager build their team around Isco rather than attempt to fit him in, they will reap the benefits. At the moment, he can do little wrong. Champs League group stage ranked  

Neymar delivers Anthony Ralston a stinging lesson as PSG thump Celtic

As a venerable TV commercial for sherry used to proclaim, quality counts. By half-time at Parkhead against Paris St-Germain, the massed Hoops support had been reminded that, despite periodic demonstrations of defiance against opponents with bloated Euro accounts, Celtic are more frequently compelled to observe the painful reality that, in such circumstances, the odds are always heaped against them. PSG are under investigation by Uefa for suspected breaches of the Financial Fair Play rules but, until such time as the governing body decides otherwise, Unai Emery’s side have the capacity to inflict serious damage on those who  cross their paths. By way of a demonstration, not only were they three goals to the good by the midway stage of this Champions League encounter in Group B, but the spoils had been split evenly among their three attackers. Neymar was, of course, the focus of attention, by no means all of which was rhapsodic. The Brazil forward had previous at Celtic Park, of course, having suckered Scott Brown into a flick of the boot right in front of the referee during Celtic’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona in a Champions League group stage tie in November 2013. When the Catalan side returned last season, Neymar was jeered from first touch to last, not that the experience troubled him, according to his own testimony on the run-up to this encounter. “Booing does not bother me, it’s boring, but that’s it,” he said. “If anybody thinks they can affect my game by booing then they are wasting their time.” Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani joined Neymar on the scoresheet Credit: afp Mikael Lustig observed of Neymar last season: “He is the greatest actor in football. He always falls very light – you hardly have to touch him.” As a consequence of the paucity of fit central defenders available to Brendan Rogers, the Celtic manager put Lustig alongside Jozo Simunovic and fielded the teenage tyro, Anthony Ralston, at right-back, placing the cadet directly in the path of a €200 million striker, thus creating a contrast of extremes. On one side was the Brazilian hyperstar, previous South American Footballer of the Year, winner in the Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League – the latter three all in 2014-15 – prior to becoming football’s most expensive player. Ralston, meanwhile, had graduated to the Celtic team after a loan spell at Queen’s Park – in the year Neymar achieved his Spanish and European treble – and got his first start against Kilmarnock in the Hoops’ 5-0 home win on August 8. As the teams lined up, the 19-year-old from the Lanarkshire town on Bellshill, was granted a particular ovation by the home support in recognition of a task against what looked like hopeless odds. Anthony Ralston had little comeback to Neymar's class Credit: reuters Ralston responded by dumping Neymar on his backside two minutes into the proceedings, but when he tried to take the ball for a walk round the Brazilian, he lit a fuse. It detonated in the form of the opening goal, a simple strike which left the Celtic defender a spectator as Neymar drew Craig Gordon from his line and curled the ball around the keeper. Some relief was afforded Ralston when Neymar wandered infield during a spell in which he set up the second PSG goal, nodding the ball down for Kylian Mbappe to stroke home from close range. After the break PSG treated their advantage like a comfy chair, sitting snugly as Celtic tried to quarry some sort of consolation. In the event, French champions took their tally to 5-0 with a late flourish, by which time whatever sweat had formed on Neymar’s brow had long since evaporated. Ralston left the pitch pondering the lesson taught by a master. Quality counts.

Neymar delivers Anthony Ralston a stinging lesson as PSG thump Celtic

As a venerable TV commercial for sherry used to proclaim, quality counts. By half-time at Parkhead against Paris St-Germain, the massed Hoops support had been reminded that, despite periodic demonstrations of defiance against opponents with bloated Euro accounts, Celtic are more frequently compelled to observe the painful reality that, in such circumstances, the odds are always heaped against them. PSG are under investigation by Uefa for suspected breaches of the Financial Fair Play rules but, until such time as the governing body decides otherwise, Unai Emery’s side have the capacity to inflict serious damage on those who  cross their paths. By way of a demonstration, not only were they three goals to the good by the midway stage of this Champions League encounter in Group B, but the spoils had been split evenly among their three attackers. Neymar was, of course, the focus of attention, by no means all of which was rhapsodic. The Brazil forward had previous at Celtic Park, of course, having suckered Scott Brown into a flick of the boot right in front of the referee during Celtic’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona in a Champions League group stage tie in November 2013. When the Catalan side returned last season, Neymar was jeered from first touch to last, not that the experience troubled him, according to his own testimony on the run-up to this encounter. “Booing does not bother me, it’s boring, but that’s it,” he said. “If anybody thinks they can affect my game by booing then they are wasting their time.” Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani joined Neymar on the scoresheet Credit: afp Mikael Lustig observed of Neymar last season: “He is the greatest actor in football. He always falls very light – you hardly have to touch him.” As a consequence of the paucity of fit central defenders available to Brendan Rogers, the Celtic manager put Lustig alongside Jozo Simunovic and fielded the teenage tyro, Anthony Ralston, at right-back, placing the cadet directly in the path of a €200 million striker, thus creating a contrast of extremes. On one side was the Brazilian hyperstar, previous South American Footballer of the Year, winner in the Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League – the latter three all in 2014-15 – prior to becoming football’s most expensive player. Ralston, meanwhile, had graduated to the Celtic team after a loan spell at Queen’s Park – in the year Neymar achieved his Spanish and European treble – and got his first start against Kilmarnock in the Hoops’ 5-0 home win on August 8. As the teams lined up, the 19-year-old from the Lanarkshire town on Bellshill, was granted a particular ovation by the home support in recognition of a task against what looked like hopeless odds. Anthony Ralston had little comeback to Neymar's class Credit: reuters Ralston responded by dumping Neymar on his backside two minutes into the proceedings, but when he tried to take the ball for a walk round the Brazilian, he lit a fuse. It detonated in the form of the opening goal, a simple strike which left the Celtic defender a spectator as Neymar drew Craig Gordon from his line and curled the ball around the keeper. Some relief was afforded Ralston when Neymar wandered infield during a spell in which he set up the second PSG goal, nodding the ball down for Kylian Mbappe to stroke home from close range. After the break PSG treated their advantage like a comfy chair, sitting snugly as Celtic tried to quarry some sort of consolation. In the event, French champions took their tally to 5-0 with a late flourish, by which time whatever sweat had formed on Neymar’s brow had long since evaporated. Ralston left the pitch pondering the lesson taught by a master. Quality counts.

Neymar delivers Anthony Ralston a stinging lesson as PSG thump Celtic

As a venerable TV commercial for sherry used to proclaim, quality counts. By half-time at Parkhead against Paris St-Germain, the massed Hoops support had been reminded that, despite periodic demonstrations of defiance against opponents with bloated Euro accounts, Celtic are more frequently compelled to observe the painful reality that, in such circumstances, the odds are always heaped against them. PSG are under investigation by Uefa for suspected breaches of the Financial Fair Play rules but, until such time as the governing body decides otherwise, Unai Emery’s side have the capacity to inflict serious damage on those who  cross their paths. By way of a demonstration, not only were they three goals to the good by the midway stage of this Champions League encounter in Group B, but the spoils had been split evenly among their three attackers. Neymar was, of course, the focus of attention, by no means all of which was rhapsodic. The Brazil forward had previous at Celtic Park, of course, having suckered Scott Brown into a flick of the boot right in front of the referee during Celtic’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona in a Champions League group stage tie in November 2013. When the Catalan side returned last season, Neymar was jeered from first touch to last, not that the experience troubled him, according to his own testimony on the run-up to this encounter. “Booing does not bother me, it’s boring, but that’s it,” he said. “If anybody thinks they can affect my game by booing then they are wasting their time.” Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani joined Neymar on the scoresheet Credit: afp Mikael Lustig observed of Neymar last season: “He is the greatest actor in football. He always falls very light – you hardly have to touch him.” As a consequence of the paucity of fit central defenders available to Brendan Rogers, the Celtic manager put Lustig alongside Jozo Simunovic and fielded the teenage tyro, Anthony Ralston, at right-back, placing the cadet directly in the path of a €200 million striker, thus creating a contrast of extremes. On one side was the Brazilian hyperstar, previous South American Footballer of the Year, winner in the Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League – the latter three all in 2014-15 – prior to becoming football’s most expensive player. Ralston, meanwhile, had graduated to the Celtic team after a loan spell at Queen’s Park – in the year Neymar achieved his Spanish and European treble – and got his first start against Kilmarnock in the Hoops’ 5-0 home win on August 8. As the teams lined up, the 19-year-old from the Lanarkshire town on Bellshill, was granted a particular ovation by the home support in recognition of a task against what looked like hopeless odds. Anthony Ralston had little comeback to Neymar's class Credit: reuters Ralston responded by dumping Neymar on his backside two minutes into the proceedings, but when he tried to take the ball for a walk round the Brazilian, he lit a fuse. It detonated in the form of the opening goal, a simple strike which left the Celtic defender a spectator as Neymar drew Craig Gordon from his line and curled the ball around the keeper. Some relief was afforded Ralston when Neymar wandered infield during a spell in which he set up the second PSG goal, nodding the ball down for Kylian Mbappe to stroke home from close range. After the break PSG treated their advantage like a comfy chair, sitting snugly as Celtic tried to quarry some sort of consolation. In the event, French champions took their tally to 5-0 with a late flourish, by which time whatever sweat had formed on Neymar’s brow had long since evaporated. Ralston left the pitch pondering the lesson taught by a master. Quality counts.

Report: Arsenal Joins Race to Secure Deal for Rising Real Madrid Star

Arsenal are understood to have joined both Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in the race to sign Real Madrid starlet Marcos Llorente this summer.

Real Madrid are considering allowing the highly-rated midfielder to leave the Bernabeu this summer due to the high levels of competition for places - with the rise of the impressive Mateo Kovacic, and signing of Dani Ceballos further limiting Llorente's opportunity with the first team in the 2017/18 season.

The 22-year-old spent last season on loan with fellow La Liga outfit, Deportivo Alaves - making 32 appearances. Despite showing plenty of promise with the achieving Basques, who made the Copa del Rey final, Llorente has now shunted down the pecking order at the Bernabeu and could be set for the exit.

According to Spanish outlet AS, via The Mirror, Real Madrid are now looking to secure another loan deal for the 22-year-old, or a deal which would involve a suitable buy-back clause.

Arsene Wenger is said to rate Llorente highly, and is prepared to add him to the ranks at Arsenal following the Spanish giants willingness to part with the Spanish midfielder.

Despite currently possessing a host of midfielders at the Emirates, with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny all competing for a starting birth, Wenger could be eager to add a young talent to his already ample midfield brigade.

However, the Gunners are likely to face tough competition in the battle for Llorente's signature as both Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are reported to be hot on the trail of the 22-year-old.

Wenger will be content with the signings of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette, but Llorente could offer a touch of class to his side as the club continue to offload a host of players before the end of the transfer window.

WATCH: Asensio, Benzema Lead Dominant Real Madrid vs. Barcelona to Win Super Cup

Real Madrid has secured yet another trophy under Zinedine Zidane, and it's come at the expense of hated rival Barcelona.

Real Madrid padded its 3-1 first-leg win at Camp Nou with a dominant 2-0 triumph at the Bernabeu to win the Spanish Super Cup for the first time since 2012 on a 5-1 aggregate. Marco Asensio followed up his sensational goal to cap the first-leg win with a fourth-minute stunner, and Karim Benzema added a beautiful goal of his own, delivering a second straight setback to Ernesto Valverde's Neymar-less side prior to the kickoff of La Liga.

Real Madrid eased to the second-leg win and won the Super Cup for a 10th time without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo or the rested Gareth Bale and Isco. Barcelona struggled to get a foothold in the game, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez each hitting the post for the visitors' best chances.

Asensio removed all doubt early on and made Barcelona's climb that much steeper by delivering a dipping dagger from long range not even five minutes in, capping Real Madrid's period of early pressure.

The goal marked the 68th straight game in all competitions in which Real Madrid has scored, with Zidane's side continuing its consistent assault, no matter the opposing side.

It took Barcelona a bit longer before it got a foothold in the match, with its first half-chance coming off a sensational volley attempt by Suarez following Javier Mascherano's chipped ball forward in the 12th minute.

Real Madrid came inches from doubling its lead on the day through Toni Kroos, who opted for a softly hit chance from the center of the box after Lucas Vazquez's lay off pass in the 30th minute.

A minute later, Vazquez set up Benzema for a close-range header, but Gerard Pique's last-gasp intervention put the ball out for a corner.

Vazquez took things into his own feet moments after that, spraying a left-footed chance off the left post after beating goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen from 15 yards.

Benzema scored Madrid's deserved second goal in the 39th minute off a clinical self-volley from Marcelo's assist, giving Real a 2-0 lead on the day and a 5-1 advantage on aggregate.

Messi produced Barcelona's best moment of the match in the 53rd minute, working a combination with Suarez and beating Keylor Navas, only to be denied by the underside of the crossbar.

Messi set up Suarez for another Barcelona chance in the 70th minute, but again the visitors hit the woodwork, with Suarez's diving header clanging off the outside of the right post.

The trophy is the second of the season already for Real Madrid, which captured the UEFA Super Cup by topping Manchester United.

Real Madrid will still have the FIFA Club World Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles for which to play in 2017-18, while Barcelona limps into the new season, still staggering after the departure of Neymar. Barcelona has thus far brought in Brazilian midfielder Paulinho, and it's been linked to big-money moves for Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund's Ousmane Dembele.

Buffon Joins Messi, Ronaldo for UEFA Player of the Year Award

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been selected alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the three-man final shortlist for the 2016/17 UEFA Player of the Year award.

The three finalists were selected after votes from 80 coaches of the clubs which participated in the group stage of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, as well as input from 55 journalists representing each UEFA member association.

Luka Modric (4), Toni Kroos (5), Paulo Dybala (6), Sergio Ramos (7), Kylian Mbappe (8), Robert Lewandowski (9) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (10) made up the rest of the top 10.

Ronaldo is the current holder of the honor after collecting the accolade this time last year, recognized for his role in Real Madrid's Undecima Champions League win and Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph. He received his trophy on stage alongside female winner Ada Hegerberg.

This year, Ronaldo has another Champions League crown, as well as La Liga glory, to stake his claim for victory for a third gong.

Messi, also a two-time previous winner, was European Golden Shoe winner last season after 40 league goals for Barcelona and collected the Copa del Rey, while Buffon was a Serie A and Coppa Italia winner with Juve, as well as a Champions League finalist again.

This year's award will be presented to the winner on 24th August in Monaco ahead of the draws for the Champions League and Europa League group stages the following day.

Weekend Winners: Neymar, Real Madrid, Manchesters United, City Dazzle

European soccer is, for all intents and purposes, back.

Sure, only Ligue 1 and the Premier League have officially resumed after the summer break, but Super Cups and domestic cups elsewhere have kicked the 2017-18 campaign into high gear, and teams across the continent have hit the ground running.

The Premier League's opening weekend brought entertainment and goals galore, while its defending champion wobbled out of the gate. Ligue 1's two favorites are off to the starts most expected, while Serie A's six-time defending champion has something to think about after missing out on a first piece of silverware.

With the first robust weekend of the new campaign in the rear-view mirror, here's a look at the big winners who laid the foundation for the months to come.

MANCHESTERS CITY, UNITED

Year 2 for Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in Manchester figures to be a more productive one for both legendary managers, and their sides got off to impressive starts to kick off the Premier League season.

Arguably no team was more impressive than Mourinho's United, who put up a four-spot on West Ham, thanks largely to the contributions of two newcomers. Romelu Lukaku scored the first two goals, Nemanja Matic was pivotal in the midfield and Chelsea fans are left wondering what could have been, had Lukaku opted for the Blues and Matic not been sold. It's only one game, but it's an encouraging result to say the least for Mourinho & Co.

Guardiola's City, meanwhile, ran out a 2-0 winner at Brighton, which in and of itself isn't a surprise at all, but it gave us a glimpse into how Pep's revamped back line may look with all of those new fullback/wingback toys and the frightening level of attacking depth on the bench. Even with Kelechi Iheanacho sold, Guardiola was able to keep Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in reserve while Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Gabriel Jesus led the push forward. Pep's a manager who loves to tinker for the occasion and keep things fresh within his squad, and after another big summer of spending, he sure seems to have replenished the roster to his liking. Now, everyone just has to stay healthy.

There were plenty of other "winners" in the Premier League, including the fans who were entertained from start to finish on the opening weekend, promoted side Huddersfield Town, Chelsea-slaying Burnley and the roller-coaster experience that is Arsenal, but the Manchester powerhouses made the biggest statement.

ZIDANE'S REAL MADRID

At a certain point, any remaining detractors of Zinedine Zidane and what he's been able to do since taking the reins at Real Madrid are going to be completely without material.

Real went into Camp Nou, took it to Barcelona, scored while down a man, and then scored AGAIN on a sensational Marco Asensio dagger to take a 3-1 edge and full control of the Spanish Supercopa ahead of Wednesday's return leg at the Bernabeu. The silverware count continues to pile up for Zidane, whose side could be fighting for a six-trophy campaign. The UEFA Super Cup is already secure, and the Spanish Super Cup would appear to be on its way. Real will be the overwhelming favorite at the FIFA Club World Cup again, which leaves La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the Champions League fronts where it will be battling.

?It's not all gravy for Real Madrid, of course. Cristiano Ronaldo's five-game ban for a red card and then shoving a referee (after a brilliant go-ahead goal) will keep him out of the second leg and the first four games of La Liga. The positive spin there, though, is that's potentially 450 fewer minutes on his legs that could come in handy at the end of the season.

NEYMAR

O.K., let's not pretend that Guingamp's defenders were Maldini, Materazzi or, heck, even Mascherano. The defending display in PSG's Ligue 1 match Sunday was pathetic, and most Ligue 1 defensive displays that PSG finds itself trying to break down won't be all that different. That said, the onus was on Neymar to make an immediate impact after his record-shattering move from Barcelona, and he delivered with a first-class assist to Edinson Cavani and a heads-up goal to cap a successful introduction to the French league.

Neymar will be judged on his ability to carry PSG in the Champions League, but if Sunday is any indication, he's going to be putting up some gaudy stats in domestic play along the way.

WAYNE ROONEY

You can go home again, it seems. Rooney's 199th Premier League goal was a big win, giving Everton a 1-0 win over Stoke City in his Premier League return with his boyhood club. Wearing Toffee blue may well rejuvenate Rooney, and it will definitely remove him from the brutal news cycle he was subjected to at Manchester United, where his place and future were both perpetually in doubt.

RADAMEL FALCAO

All the focus on Monaco is who has left from last season's title squad and Champions League semifinals and who may still be leaving, but one fixture who is remaining is Falcao, and he absolutely brought it with his hat trick against Dijon. The pick of the bunch was his 20-yard curler from outside the box, which padded the lead at 3-0 and sent Monaco on its way to another three-point haul. Most figure it to be PSG's title to lose, and they're probably right, but Falcao can still provide the moments of class necessary to keep Monaco contending in its title defense.

LAZIO

The best Super Cup match of Sunday wasn't in Spain–it was in Italy, where Lazio's extra-time heroics bested Juventus's in a 3-2 thriller. Paulo Dybala's two goals in six minutes, including an equalizer from the spot in the 91st minute, seemed to send the clash to extra time, but Alessandro Murgia's winner two minutes later off an assist from Lukaku's younger brother, Jordan, seized the trophy for the capital club and delivered a rare domestic disappointment to Juve.

?Juventus, regardless of Lazio's statement and AC Milan's makeover, will still be favored to win Serie A for a seventh straight season, though with Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci gone it certainly has some work to do to fill those voids and get back to title-winning form.

Twitter Back to Its Best Following Action-Packed El Clasico Fixture for the Spanish Super Cup

​Football is back across the board and we were lucky enough to get an early El Clasico in the season, after La Liga winners Real Madrid took on Copa del Rey victors Barcelona for the Spanish Super Cup. The first of the two-legged fixture took place at the Camp Nou on Sunday night and it was full of drama, talking points and phenomenal goals, just like we have come to expect between the world's two best teams. However, Los Blancos' decision to wear their turquoise third kit left many perplexed,...

Twitter Back to Its Best Following Action-Packed El Clasico Fixture for the Spanish Super Cup

​Football is back across the board and we were lucky enough to get an early El Clasico in the season, after La Liga winners Real Madrid took on Copa del Rey victors Barcelona for the Spanish Super Cup. The first of the two-legged fixture took place at the Camp Nou on Sunday night and it was full of drama, talking points and phenomenal goals, just like we have come to expect between the world's two best teams. However, Los Blancos' decision to wear their turquoise third kit left many perplexed,...

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