Real Madrid clinched the La Liga title after beating Malaga at La Rosaleda on the final day of the season on Sunday (21 May), taking their 33rd title by three points. Barcelona won their home game against Eibar too after coming from two goals behind, but it was too little too late.
Los Blancos made history as it is the first time they have scored in every La Liga fixture in a single season and it was Cristiano Ronaldo responsible for achieving this milestone with his opening strike, assisted by Francisco Alarcón, or the man we know as Isco.
The former Málaga player has been responsible for Los Blancos' renaissance during the second half of the season. He seemed destined to start almost every game from the bench; in fact, before the Champions League second leg clash against Bayern Munich, he was the player in the Real Madrid squad who had played fewest minutes in the continental competition, not including goalkeepers. Now, he is the key to Real Madrid's momentum, as he combines hard work – one of the reasons why James Rodríguez has not been able to succeed at the club – vision and technique.
After four seasons at the club, Isco has finally found his place. He has had his struggles with the 4-3-3 system, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema had a guaranteed place in the starting XI week in week out. There was no alternative for the manager. But it was after the Welshman's long-term injury when Zinedine Zidane had to reinvent Real Madrid. Coinciding with Ronaldo's renaissance, the French manager put Isco behind the Portugal international and Benzema, turning the Spaniard into the perfect link between Casemiro and Tony Kroos, the engine of La Liga champions, and the attack.
Versatility is not among Isco's best skills, he needs to play exactly there, behind the forwards, to make the most of his talent. But every time Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo start in the 4-3-3 system, the team suffers as Casemiro cannot handle the amount of space left in behind if Isco plays too. Bill Shankly said that "a football team is like a piano, you need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing". With Isco, Bale, Cristiano and Benzema all on the pitch at the same time, Casemiro has to lift the weight of the piano on his own.
Now, Zinedine Zidane faces a dilemma. Bale is nearing a full recovery from a calf injury and could return against Juventus in the Champions League final. The debate is constant these days here in Spain. Would you keep the most expensive signing in Real Madrid's history on the bench, especially considering his level since his arrival at the Santiago Bernabéu has been outstanding? Or is it a good idea to start with the former Tottenham Hotspur forward at the cost of halting Isco Alarcón's progression?
With just two weeks remaining until the Champions League in Cardiff, there is something clear when it comes to the line-up debate. Real Madrid have been playing wonderfully for the last weeks. Showing balance, reliability in defensive duties and making the most of Cristiano Ronaldo's peak form. Isco has been the soul of the team in the last three months of the season and last but not least: Juventus are a defensive side, especially if they score first. In order to harm the Italians, rivals need players who can dribble and threaten defenders when space does open up. In other words, Zinedine Zidane needs players who can change games in "static attacks."
Isco can find the way if things get tough for the Spaniards. Since Jose Mourinho's days at the club, Real Madrid have built up one of the most brilliant squads to perform well in counter attacks. Obviously such a good team are able to succeed in many other aspects of the game, but again, the Champions League final might require players like Marco Asensio or Isco who might be faced with 10 members of the opposition in front of them during some phases of the final. There aren't many other options other than the Spanish duo to deal with this kind of defensive tactic in Real Madrid's squad.
Bale's form on his return is a big question mark as well. It might be recovered quickly, but nobody is at peak form days after an injury, so Zidane should not take risks. Starting the final with Bale on the bench is a luxury nobody can't afford. But the circumstances could call for it. And if Los Blancos are able to score first and the minutes go by, I cannot think of a better option than Bale off the bench to sentence Juventus to defeat once they start leaving space for him.