Isco has become a world beater in the last year or so, using the absence of Gareth Bale to cement his place on arguably the world’s best team. Isco is a phenomenon, drifting between lines, sliding passes, and pulling off sublime finishes in and around the box.
The ball almost seems stuck to his foot, using his unorthodox dribbling skills to put his body between the man and ball constantly. There are few players with the ability, let alone the nerve, to play the way he does. But one player that is responsible for Isco’s rise to prominence seems to be Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla. The way the pair move is almost identical, drifting in the lines, shifting the ball at atypical angles, and playing cross-field balls with ease. They are so similar, that when articles are written on who should replace Carzola at Arsenal, Isco’s name invariably comes up. So, how exactly did Santi Carzola year at Malaga with Isco affect his style of play?
The way the pair move is almost identical, drifting in the lines, shifting the ball at atypical angles, and playing cross-field balls with ease. They are so similar, that when articles are written on who should replace Cazorla at Arsenal, Isco’s name invariably comes up. So, how exactly did Santi’s year at Malaga with Isco affect his style of play?
— M.Waseem Hasan (@waseemhasan07) September 9, 2017
The blessing and the curse of short stature
Isco’s dribbling style is extremely similar to his fellow Spaniard; neither are the largest of players, with Isco standing at 5ft 9”, and Carzola at an even shorter 5ft 6”. This low centre of gravity is essential to the way they use their body around the ball. Santi Carzola has a habit of letting the ball pass him before collecting it, often putting his body perfectly in the way of the defender’s reach for the ball. It is often inch perfect, letting the ball drift just enough so that Carzola has to be fouled or left alone.
It is precisely because of his small stature that the former Malaga playmaker can – and does – bully midfielders. He cannot be touched, or he will be fouled. Isco plays similarly, though because La Liga is not as physical as the Premier League it is not as apparent. But if you look closely at his footwork, it has shades of Santi in it; he, too, puts his body between man and ball first, forcing his opponent to back off, spinning at high speeds to throw the defender off.
— Lassana (@_Lassana_) December 13, 2016
The way they pass and find space is near identical, too; Carzola, though, often deployed as a central midfielder, excels in a freer role, able to drift between lines of the opponent’s midfield and defence. If you watch the 32-year-old move, he intentionally comes up on the blindside of defenders, receiving the ball with enough space to turn and have his head up. He is constantly looking, searching for the killer pass. Isco is the same, receiving the ball in the same way, often seeing the pass, but having to step silkily past two players in order to pull the pass off; he succeeds more often than not.
Santi Carzola and Isco also play raking balls identically, balls that switch the play from side to side and bypass the other team’s midfield. With little back-lift, both play balls in tight space that break the other team’s pressure, and allowing their attack to come from a new angle. The similarity in the way they execute these balls is eerie.
The markers of Santi Carzola can clearly be seen on Isco, and Spain and Real Madrid are reaping the benefits of the injured Arsenal star’s tutelage.