WORLD CUP: Beautiful people | Germany homecoming
Isco, one of the stars of Spain's success at the 2013 European Under-21 Championship in Israel, appeared to have the world at his feet when he joined Real Madrid from Malaga. However, despite a bright start to his career in the capital, Isco proved unable to nail down a regular starting berth.
As far as coach Carlo Ancelotti was concerned, there was no room for Isco. However, 13 months on, the Italian will be under strict orders to find a space in his lineup for James Rodriguez, the club's latest star signing. After all, Madrid president Florentino Perez has not signed the Colombia international for nothing. He has paid in the region of 88 million euros, and James must play. It really is as simple as that.
Consequently, Ancelotti will already be mulling over how best to utilise World Cup 2014's Golden Boot winner. On the face of it, the former AC Milan boss would appear to have two tactical options available to him...
Ancelotti could easily decide to plump for a conventional 4-3-3, with James lining up in midfield alongside the versatile Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. The ex-Monaco man could, in theory, be deployed on the right-hand side but arguably only if he is allowed to constantly move forward and do what he does best: cause havoc in the unattended space in behind the centre forward. Certainly, relying on James to stay wide and cover the right wing would appear foolish given he is not exactly predisposed to tracking back. However, affording him the freedom to regularly drift infield would obviously place more pressure on fellow new arrival Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to not only pull the strings in the middle of the park but also provide the back four with some much-needed cover. The worry there, of course, is that neither Kroos nor Modric are classic defensive midfielders, meaning Madrid could end up with a soft center.
The other concern would be the narrowness of the midfield. Deploying Angel Di Maria in midfield last season worked well for Madrid, given the Argentine is a natural winger and thus able to provide width on either flank when required, as well as take up Cristiano Ronaldo's preferred position wide on the left whenever the Portuguese decides to occupy a more central spot. James is not comfortable on the wing, so Ancelotti could just opt to deploy the 23-year-old in his best position: as a trequartista in a three-pronged attacking unit behind lone striker Karim Benzema. James would obviously feel most a home in such a set-up, while the lightning quick duo of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale would offer fantastic pace on the flanks. However, the concern again would be that while Bale, a former left back, is more than comfortable going backwards, Ronaldo has little interest in defensive responsibilities, meaning Madrid could prove particularly vulnerable down their left-hand side. Madrid's lack of a natural ball-winner in the middle of the park would also remain unresolved.
It is, of course, early days and Madrid's summer spending spree is not over yet. However, while Ancelotti appears fortunate to have been given another expensive toy to play with, the fear is that finding a place for it on an already overcrowded shelf might just prove more trouble than it's worth.