Few players possess the kind of raw footballing talent that Francisco ‘Isco’ Alarcón does – and Saturday’s encounter against Sporting Gijon was a welcome reminder of that. Zidane had rested a number of key players for the game with one eye on the midweek clash against Bayern Munich, and the pressure was on the fringe players to deliver. Isco stepped up to the plate for his side, dragging them over the finish line with a brilliant 90th minute winner. It was a victory to be cherished as a slip-up could’ve proven detrimental to Madrid’s title charge, especially with El Clásico still to be played.
The only players to retain their place in the side were Nacho and Sergio Ramos, with injuries to Varane and Pepe leaving Madrid bereft of options in the middle of defence. Danilo and Coentrao lined up either side of the Spanish centre-backs; while Kovacic, Isco, and James Rodriguez formed the midfield three. Up top, Alvaro Morata was supported by Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the wings. It was the first start in quite some time for many of the players involved, and the rustiness showed in the initial stages of the game.
Sporting struggled to retain possession, as expected – but they were sharp on the break and converted a big chance in the 14th minute as Duje Cop slotted past Casilla in the Madrid goal. The lead was short-lived for the home side as Los Blancos hit back in the 17th minute through Isco, who produced a sublime finish into the top corner after leaving the Sporting defence in his wake. The intensity dropped as the first-half progressed, and both teams looked content to go into the break level.
Shortly after the restart, Sporting managed to snatch the lead again – with Vesga scoring in the 50th minute. However, it wasn’t long before Madrid tied up the game again as Morata towered over the opposition’s defence to notch a lovely header into the bottom corner. Zidane’s men continued their search for a winner, but it didn’t arrive until the very end of the game. A flowing move from the Madrid players ended with Isco rifling a strike into the bottom corner – and the team was clearly overjoyed at the result.
Real have expertly navigated a tough string of fixtures as of late, and will need to continue in their stride if they are to make it through the month of April unscathed. With Bayern and Barcelona to play in the coming week, their season could ultimately be defined by their performances in these games – and individual performances akin to the one Isco provided on Saturday will be wholeheartedly welcome. It’s evidently now or never for the Galacticos, and fate seems to be on their side.