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Julen Lopetegui worried by lack of Isco, Asensio games; backs Costa return

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has admitted to concern over a lack of playing time at Real Madrid for Isco and Marco Asensio ahead of the summer's World Cup, while saying Diego Costa will likely return in his next squad following his immediate impact back at Atletico Madrid.

Isco, 25, was one of Spain's standout players through World Cup qualifying over the last two years, scoring twice in the key 3-0 victory over Italy last September, while Asensio, 21, has more recently also emerged as a potential starter for La Roja in Russia.

But they have had less playing time recently at club level, with Madrid's "BBC" strikeforce of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo all fit and available again.

Isco has made Zinedine Zidane's XI in just two of the last six La Liga games, while Asensio's only starts since early December have come as their Copa del Rey campaign ended disappointingly early.

Lopetegui told reporters at the Madrid Sports Press Association's annual awards ceremony that he would prefer the pair received more regular playing time, but was sure that over the course of the season the situation would improve.

"We want all our players to play the biggest roles possible with their clubs, not just Asensio," Lopetegui said. "[Isco] has not played much in recent games, but there is a long way to go yet. We trust fully in Isco. It concerns me that they are not playing much, but for sure they will be back in the team."

Brazil-born Costa has never quite settled into the Spain set-up since his switch of allegiance before the 2014 World Cup, and a FIFA transfer ban meant he did not play any football at all for almost eight months after rejoining Atletico from Chelsea last summer.

Costa has quickly regained form on his return to action this month, with three goals, two assists, and one red card in the five games he played in January, although the 29-year-old also picked up a muscle problem and is currently sidelined.

Lopetegui suggested he had expected Costa to hit the ground running on his return, and had him in mind for a recall for Spain's friendlies in late March against Germany in Dusseldorf and Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano.

"I was not surprised as we know [Costa's] mentality, his ambition, the motivation he has after being unable to compete for so long," he said.

"We know he has prepared very well, and is playing at a very good level. Now he is injured, but it seems not a big problem, and he will be back playing quickly. He could be in our next squad."

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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