Real Madrid didn’t get where they are today – a record 11 European Cups – by playing tippy-tappy passing football with diminutive midfield dynamos dictating play.
This is the club of the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas, the ‘Blond Arrow’ Alfredo Di Stefano, thunder-thighs Roberto Carlos and the brutal natural wonders that are Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
But lately a player who doesn’t quite fit that DNA has been catching the eye and on Tuesday he will start against Bayern Munich as Madrid look to take another step towards doing what no team before has done and retain the Champions League.
No Isco no disco, say fans of the 24-year-old who was the apple of Manuel Pellegrini’s eye when the Chilean coached him at Malaga. He wanted to take him to Manchester City but he moved to Madrid instead despite warnings that he would struggle to get into the team.
So it has proved but two events have conspired to mean he will now set about Bayern in the Santiago Bernabeu.
Event one, was his performance at the weekend. He scored one of the goals of the season in the first half and then added another belter on 90 minutes to get the team out of trouble – they were drawing 2-2, his goal gave them a 3-2 victory.
He even dedicated the goal to a young Madrid fan he had met in the week who has hearing and speech impaired parents – signing ‘I love you’ as he wheeled away in celebration. The old-round charm offensive had been turned up to a full 10 and Zidane was going to find it very difficult to ignore the calls for Isco to keep his place in the team.
Then came event two – confirmation that Bale had not made the squad. He has worked hard to come back after the ankle operation that robbed him of three months of this season but it seems he has worked so hard he has strained a calf and is now a doubt for the Sunday’s Clasico.
Zidane is one of the only coaches in the world who sees an injury to a top forward as a blessing in disguise – it means he is leaving out fewer players who feel they should be starting. So Bale will be in the stands and twinkle toes Isco will be in a four-man Madrid midfield that will also include Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
Also read: Late Ronaldo goal secures Real win
It’s a group that Pep Guardiola could have worked with at Barcelona – what it lacks in raw athleticism it gains in brains and ability to keep the ball.
That’s not the only thing that is slightly out of the ordinary around tonight’s fixture. Madrid are also going into the game with a clear advantage.
Sergio Ramos took to social media on Monday to call all Madrid fans to Sacred Heart Square by the stadium to greet the team bus as it makes its way to the ground but it will be interesting to see how fervently his call is heeded because there is no big comeback campaign here. Madrid have the advantage, they are home, and they are expected to go through.
It adds to the complacency alarm bells that Robert Lewandowski is back for Bayern. Zidane added: ‘He is a proper No 9 and to have him back is a real plus for them.’ He will also be playing against Sergio Ramos who is a yellow card from missing the first leg of the semi-final should Madrid go through.
Zidane was asked about his future again and said he was taking things one day at a time. Marca’s tale that he will definitely be in charge next season was no doubt designed to give everyone at the club a positive push into today’s game but everyone knows the reality is that if things go wrong in the next month the landscape will look very different.
Lose to Bayern and lose Sunday against Barcelona and he will be under pressure. Win neither the Champions League nor the Spanish League and he will be out of a job.
No one is currently considering that possibility. Real are winning games and showing that they have the best squad in Europe. Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo have done the business in big games, Lucas Vazquez, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio have stepped in for the lesser fixutres and done well.
And in Isco they have someone who – despite only having played 70 minutes in the competition so far - looks in as good a form as anyone else in Europe.