Isco again a protagonist for Real Madrid under coach Zidane

Real Madrid's Isco, left, duels for the ball with Alaves' Luis Rioja during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Alaves at Mendizo...
Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane gives instructions from the side line during a Champions League soccer match Group A between Real Madrid and ...
Atletico Madrid's head coach Diego Simeone, left, talks with FC Barcelona's head coach Ernesto Valverde during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between ...

Real Madrid's Isco, left, duels for the ball with Alaves' Luis Rioja during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Alaves at Mendizo...

Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane gives instructions from the side line during a Champions League soccer match Group A between Real Madrid and ...

Atletico Madrid's head coach Diego Simeone, left, talks with FC Barcelona's head coach Ernesto Valverde during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between ...

MADRID (AP) — Francisco “Isco” Alarcón and Real Madrid are back on good terms.

After enduring one of his worst seasons in Madrid, Isco again has become an important piece in coach Zinedine Zidane’s team.

Isco has started in two consecutive matches for the first time this season, playing well and showing the type of confidence he used to have when he helped Madrid win its recent Champions League titles.

“We never lost sight of Isco,” Zidane said after Madrid’s 2-1 win over Alavés in the Spanish league on Saturday. “He is an important player, he has always shown that. He has personality. He always shows up in difficult moments and he has done that remarkably well again.”

Isco set up Dani Carvajal’s winner against Alavés after his header was saved by the goalkeeper and ricocheted off the post back toward the area for his teammate’s easy goal. The victory left Real Madrid tied with Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league standings.

“Isco played a good match, with and without the ball,” Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos said. “He worked hard.”

Isco had also started in the team’s 2-2 draw against Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage of the Champions League on Tuesday, playing up front along with Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard. He was loudly cheered by the crowd at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium when he was replaced by Rodrygo late in the match.

In the previous 17 matches this season, Isco had started in only two, coming off the bench six other times. The 27-year-old forward was slowed by a muscle injury early in the season but had few chances even after regaining his fitness.

Isco had been playing an important role for Madrid until losing space under coach Santiago Solari last season, when the club endured one of its worst crises in decades. He was sidelined through long periods, prompting widespread rumors about his possible departure from the club.

But Zidane wasn’t ready to give up on him just yet. Isco played in all three Champions League finals won by the club under Zidane, starting in two of them. He also played in the 2013-14 final won by the team, coming off the bench.

Isco’s rebirth with Madrid should also help him regain a spot in the national team, where he used to have a regular place until his club struggles began.

ATLÉTICO’S TRANSITION

Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone has blamed the team’s recent struggles on the significant changes made to the squad in the offseason.

“We have to be patient and understand that we are going through a transition year,” Simeone said. “We have to understand that we went through significant changes to the squad, we need time to improve.”

Atlético lost to Barcelona 1-0 at home on Sunday, dropping to sixth place in the Spanish standings, six points off the lead. Atlético has won only one of its last seven matches in all competitions, with three losses and three draws.

Atlético revamped the squad in the offseason, losing veteran players such as Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Antoine Griezmann. A group of younger players were signed, including Portuguese teen sensation João Félix, who has yet to perform up to expectations.

HOME STRUGGLES

Espanyol enters the final month of the year as the team with the worst home record in the main European leagues.

The Barcelona club has not won any of its eight home matches this season, with one draw and sevens losses.

The team’s latest setback was a 4-2 defeat against promoted Osasuna on Sunday, when the more than 21,000 fans at RCDE Stadium loudly jeered the squad after the match.

“We understand why the fans are angry, I’m also angry,” Espanyol midfielder David López said. “It’s a very complicated situation. Nothing works. We try hard, but nothing goes our way. We are closer to the second division than we are to the first division right now, but it’s not the time to give up just yet.”

The weekend loss kept Espanyol second-to-last in the league standings with nine points from 15 matches.

The team’s only point at home came from a 1-1 draw with Getafe on Nov. 24. In away games, Espanyol has the 10th-best campaign in the league with two wins and two draws.

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