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Isco’s future at Real Madrid is up in the air, and while it is by no means the first time the Spaniard has been linked with a move away from the Bernabéu, it feels like this time it could really happen.
Limited time this season has clearly frustrated the 24-year-old, who hinted at a Real Madrid summer departure when speaking to BeIn Sports after Zinedine Zidane’s side’s win over Espanyol at the weekend.
“I am calm though I am worried about getting more minutes,” he said.
“I am very happy here but a player’s career is small.
“We’ll make a decision at the end of the season – it’s my future at stake.”
Is the time right for Isco to leave Real Madrid?
It is clear that Isco is a quality player and, at 24, he needs time on the pitch to further improve and not stagnate.
That is something he is not getting at the moment.
Against Espanyol at the weekend, Isco completed 90 minutes for Real Madrid for the first time since October.
For a player of his quality, it simply is not enough time on the pitch.
Zidane has tried a number of formations this year – from the 4-3-3 you expect at Real Madrid, to a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2.
Arguably one of Isco’s best performances this season was in a short-lived 4-4-1-1 employed by Madrid against Atlético Madrid due to injuries.
Los Blancos won 3-0 and Isco played in a free role behind Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Spaniard causing chaos between the lines and Real Madrid’s No.7 grabbing a hat-trick.
“I feel more comfortable there, but that is not an excuse [for other games],” Isco said after the match in November.
“I always try and do the best I can. I stick with the work done by the team.”
But that formation was short-lived, and Isco went back to being a squad option.
He plays better in a slightly more advanced position than his usual spot in midfield in the 4-3-3 formation, and would perhaps be better suited to the No.10 role in a 4-2-3-1, which Zidane has only employed four times this season.
Isco isn’t playing badly for Real Madrid at all – he was great against Espanyol and turned the game around at Osasuna the weekend before.
And Isco must know there are players more suited than him for the two formations favoured at the moment – 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.
He also knows how important it is to play at a crucial stage of his career – he only needs to look at fellow 24-year-old Mario Götze, whose development has stalled after a lack of football both last season at Bayern Munich and this year at Borussia Dortmund.
The gifted midfielder currently averages a goal every 194 minutes; if he was playing more often, that level would take him to at least 10 league goals a season easily – something he is yet to achieve in his career, either at Málaga or Real Madrid.
With Real’s reported interest in Dele Alli, it only suggests Zidane is looking at strengthening the midfield, and that is not good news for Isco.
While most Spanish players will dream of being a success at Real Madrid and becoming a club legend, it may be time for the 24-year-old to leave the Bernabéu.
Where could Isco go?
There would be no shortage of demand should Isco leave Real Madrid, and we’ve looked at three possible destinations.
Isco has been a Tottenham Hotspur transfer target for a while and made their first real attempts to buy him in the summer.
The North London club made an enquiry for the 24-year-old in August, but neither party made a decisive move to take the potential deal to the next level.
But if Real Madrid continue their pursuit of Alli, Daniel Levy is a shrewd negotiator and could try and get Isco thrown in as part of the deal.
READ MORE: The Real Madrid Star Who Could Transform Spurs
Tottenham’s favoured formation this season has been a 4-2-3-1, and while of course losing the England international would be a huge blow, Isco would be a more than decent replacement.
While Alli has more league goals this season – with 11 – Isco has a better shot accuracy than the Tottenham man – 69 per cent to 55 per cent, as well as a better pass completion rate – 90 per cent to 80 per cent.
Per 90 minutes, the Real Madrid man also out-passes Alli – 63.77 to 36.93 – and creates more chances too – 2.13 to 1.48.
Hear me out, this may sound ridiculous, but Isco has been linked with a move to Barcelona.
Back in November, Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo suggested Isco was on the Camp Nou hierarchy’s radar.
They are struggling in midfield at the moment, but they also play a 4-3-3, so he would have the same issues as he does at Real Madrid.
However, Isco is arguably a better player than a number of Barça's current options in the middle of the pitch, including Denis Suárez and André Gomes.
READ MORE: CAN 4-2-3-1 WORK FOR BARCELONA?
But perhaps, if Barça are tempted to switch to a 4-2-3-1 to solve their current woes, he could be the perfect answer.
It would be a huge shock for someone to swap Real for Barça, but it would keep Isco at an elite club.
however, with Madrid unlikely to sell to their rivals, the move would have to wait until his contract runs out in 2018.
Isco has already snubbed a move to the Etihad twice – first in 2012, and then in 2013 when he turned down the chance to reunited with old boss at Málaga Manuel Pellegrini and instead decided to move to Real Madrid.
READ MORE: Has Pep Guardiola Met Manchester City's Expectations This Season?
But Pep Guardiola is thought to be a fan of the Spanish midfielder, and if you look at how David Silva has thrived under the Catalan manager, you would expect Isco to do the same.
Madrid-based Marca say Manchester City are at the top of the list for the midfielder, and with his impressive pass completion rate, and eagerness to get on the ball, a move to Manchester would suit him down to the ground.