By Michael Hincks
Isco endures frustrating night as Real Madrid suffer Leganes defeat
Madrid lose but reach Copa del Rey quarter-finals 3-1 on aggregate
Last Updated: 16/01/19 11:16pm
Isco's third start under Santiago Solari ended in disappointment as the Vinicius Junior experiment continued in Real Madrid's Copa del Rey match at Leganes, reports Michael Hincks from the Estadio Butarque.
Solari was once more quizzed on his relationship with Isco after leaving the midfielder on the bench for Real's last-gasp league win at Real Betis on Sunday.
"In no way is there anything personal," said Solari, who will have felt vindicated by his substitution choices after Dani Ceballos came off the bench to score an 88th-minute winner, so too when Opta pointed out the club had won all six matches when Isco was left out by the Real boss, compared to seven wins from 11 when he had featured.
Not an entirely damning statistic, but with Solari turning to youth and overlooking Isco, there are once more question marks over the 26-year-old's future, who was linked with Manchester City and Bayern Munich last month in the Spanish press.
Solari did little to cool talk of a move away before the Leganes match. "We have a wonderful squad and I have to choose who gets involved in each game," he said. "It is not up to me to explain the transfer policy, I am just the coach."
Isco duly started at Leganes for just the third time in Solari's 18 matches in charge. Having also started their dead-rubber final Champions League group game against CSKA Moscow, and the second leg of the previous Copa del Rey round against Melilla - Real were already leading 4-0 - this was hardly a show of faith from Real's head coach.
Playing behind Vinicius Jr in a 4-2-3-1, Isco still had a point to prove, but the first half did not go to plan as Real looked to protect a 3-0 aggregate lead.
Leganes reignited the tie in the 30th minute through Martin Braithwaite, a minute after Isco squandered Real's best opportunity of the half when seeing his attempt blocked following a swift counter.
After a difficult first half, Isco's number was up 23 minutes into the second. He was replaced by Cristo Gonzalez, with no acknowledgement from Solari as he made his way back to the familiar sight of the bench.
With Real going on to lose 1-0 - albeit still qualifying for the quarter-finals - that unwanted statistic for Isco changed to seven wins in 12…
Vinicius Jr's increasing importance
All the while, Vinicius Jr has emerged as a vital cog in Real's attacking wheel. Starting at the Butarque was no punishment for the Brazilian, more a desire to maintain momentum ahead of a key league match at home to Sevilla on Saturday.
The 18-year-old did not start a league match under former boss Julen Lopetegui, but has played 90 minutes in each of their last two games under Solari against Real Sociedad and Betis respectively.
Deployed as a false-nine against Leganes, Vinicius Jr led the break leading to Isco's first-half opportunity, and fashioned his own chance before shooting wide with Real trailing 1-0, but overall endured a similarly frustrating first 45.
He then switched with Vazquez and started the second half on the left wing, and was not shy in showing off his fancy footwork before failing to find his team-mate with a cross early on.
Vinicius fired another attempt over after cutting inside midway through the half, and then forced a save from Ivan Cuellar when arguably squaring it back to Ceballos was a better option. A livelier display then saw the forward fail to get a shot away after weaving his way into the Leganes box.
But for the post, Vinicius would have had an assist to his name when the woodwork denied Brahim Diaz a first goal for Real late on.
The tactical change outlined Solari's desire to keep experimenting with Vinicius, who at 18 is understandably a raw talent, and one clearly capable of playing across the attacking line.
Karim Benzema could well play through the pain against Sevilla after fracturing his finger at Betis, and while Solari turned to 21-year-old Cristo Gonzalez after the Frenchman went off, there is every reason to believe Vinicius will be deployed on the left wing at the Bernabeu on Saturday with Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale out injured.