It threatened to be something of a season-defining match for Real Madrid with two European superpowers meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu. At the time, Zinedine Zidane was feeling the heat due to a series of poor results and performances and so it was quite the time for the Frenchman to gamble with the selection of Isco to face Paris Saint-Germain.
Until then, the playmaker has been a peripheral figure under Zidane, having to make do with cameo appearances off the bench. His future at the Santiago Bernabeu was questioned with speculation linking him with a move away from the Spanish capital. Indeed, the sight of Isco in the Real Madrid side from the start to face PSG in the Champions League was a surprising one, but the 27-year-old took the opportunity with both hands.
That match could be looked back on as a watershed moment in Isco’s Real Madrid career. He has since become a key figure for Zidane, starting six games since facing PSG in late November. Not so long ago, Isco looked to be as good as finished at the Santiago Bernabeu, but he now appears to be a central part of the club’s plans for the future.
“I had no role in Isco's recovery, I'm just glad about it,” Zidane insisted to the press, somewhat modestly, after an especially impressive display by Isco in Real Madrid’s Spanish Supercopa semi-final win over Valencia. “He has personality and wants to play. He doesn't shy away from responsibility.”
Zidane has even previously admitted that he sees something of himself in Isco. From almost nothing, a relationship has been forged over the past few months.
It’s certainly true that Isco is playing with more of a swagger of late. His versatility has made him invaluable as Real Madrid have dealt with injuries to players like Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Isco might not be playing in his favoured position through the middle, but he is still influential enough deployed further wide, either on the left or right.
Isco needs the confidence to thrive and he now has that coursing through his veins. Until recently, the 27-year-old had struggled to live up to the billing he arrived with from Malaga all the way back in 2013. Now, his form suggests he might still come good at Real Madrid, pushing the capital club towards only their third La Liga title in 12 years. Redemption has been achieved. Fulfilment is finally within reach.