The world's best reserve - Isco proves he's too good for the Madrid bench
There is surely no better reserve around. Isco Alarcon would walk into the starting XI at virtually every club in the world yet he is not first choice when everyone is fit at Real Madrid. On this form, however, that may soon change.
Isco inspired a vital 3-2 win for Los Blancos at Sporting Gijon on Saturday, as Zinedine Zidane's second string twice came from behind to seal a victory that moves them a step closer to winning La Liga for the first time since 2011-12.
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The Spain midfielder equalised with a a superb strike following some sublime skill inside the box, after Duje Cop had given Sporting the lead. Later on, another impressive reserve, Alvaro Morata, responded to Mikel Vesga's strike to restore parity once more.
However, there was only one man who was going to win it. Isco went on a remarkable, jinking run from the halfway line that took him all the way to the area in and saw him dispossessed at the last minute. He was not to be denied, though, driving a low shot inside the post from outside the box in the final minute to seal all three points for the league leaders.
Zidane had rung the changes for this match, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Dani Carvajal both left out to avoid the risk of suspension, Gareth Bale injured and a number of others - including Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas - all rested ahead of next week's games against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Madrid meet Bayern on Tuesday after beating the German champions 2-1 at the Allianz Arena in the sides' Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday night. Then comes the crucial Clasico clash with Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday week.
Despite all of the players rested, Madrid's side still featured an embarrassment of riches - with Isco, James Rodriguez, Morata, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez forming a formidable front five.
Each of those players would be starters at most other sides, but Isco is ahead of them all and his two moments of magic made the difference in this match as Madrid ensured that they will finish the day at least three points clear at the top of the table.
Recently linked with a move to Barcelona, Isco published a photo on Instagram earlier this month with his friends which featured a bag of Barca chips, before deleting the image and replacing it with another.
He then came out on Twitter and said "I'm not joining Barca" after he received countless messages from fans of both Madrid and the Catalan club on the social networking site urging them to commit to their respective clubs.
Nevertheless, it is no secret that he wants to be involved more than he is now and it remains to be seen how long Zidane can continue to leave him out of his first-choice XI on current form.
He has had a hand in nine goals (seven goals and two assists) in his last eight Liga starts and has scored nine in total - equalling his best-ever return in the top flight (nine, with Malaga, in 2012-13).
Out of contract in 2018, Madrid must convince the 24-year-old that he has a future as a starter at the Santiago Bernabeu and tempt him into signing a new deal.
If they cannot, Europe's elite clubs will be lining up to offer the Spain star a permanent place in their first XI - because he is simply just too good to be on the bench.