Despite being among the highest-rated players of their squads, Isco Alarcon and Philippe Coutinho have fallen unexpectedly out of favour at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively this campaign.
While their cases are distinctly different in some aspects, it is impossible to ignore the glaring similarities between their falls from grace.
What is the most striking commonality between them is their omission from the starting line-up. Isco and Coutinho would likely start for any other side in the world but are forced to settle for a place on the bench at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. Worst of all for them is that the situation is becoming all the more frequent.
Their performances are also not helping them regain their places. When they get opportunities from the bench, neither is sparking life into the team nor carrying out individual performances that gain the attention of their manager.
Starting spots lost
Isco was previously a guaranteed starter at Madrid under Julen Lopetegui but, since the arrival of Santiago Solari, he has been left in the shadows. Something similar happened with Coutinho, who was a key piece of the Barcelona team before the injury suffered in the Champions League group match against Inter Milan. Ousmane Dembele has since seized his chance and Coutinho is now no longer assured of a place in the team.
Both have similar records so far this year. The Brazilian has played 24 games, scoring six goals and has not started any of the last four LaLiga matches. The Spaniard has not started a match since the 5-1 defeat at the Camp Nou. In total, throughout the current campaign, Isco has scored four goals in the 20 games in which he has featured.
No place in the system
Their styles make it difficult to correspond to their manager’s 4-3-3 systems. Solari opts for speedy players on the wings, like Lucas Vazquez, Vinicius and Gareth Bale occupying those positions with characteristics that Isco does not possess. The same thing has happened to Coutinho who does not have the lightning pace of Dembele.
There are, however, plenty of differences between the two cases. Solari, despite the surprising omission of his playmaker, has made no public criticisms of Isco. At Barcelona, both manager Valverde and his assistant Aspiazu have made their feelings clear: “Maybe he is not at the same level as he was last year, Dembele has surpassed him a little,” said Valverde’s right-hand man.
Beyond sporting reasons
While the case of Coutinho is purely sporting, a tale of an injured player who has lost his place due to his replacement’s good performances, the Isco-Solari soap opera has seen various episodes.
The player refused to shake his boss’ hand at Eibar and the Argentine is showing little intention of mending the relationship, while Isco looks to be clinging onto the hope of a change of coach at the end of the year.
There is also a difference in significance of the two players. Even if the Brazilian was Barcelona’s most expensive ever transfer, his time at the club is still in its infance, with just a year at the Camp Nou. Isco, meanwhile, has been at the club for six seasons and won four Champions Leagues, in which he started two finals.