As Liverpool step up their challenge for the Champions League spots this season, rumors have started to surface, linking a host of names with a move to Anfield if they do finish in the top four.
The latest in the rumor mill is Real Madrid’s Isco, who is apparently a £37 million target for the Reds this summer if they secure Champions League qualification, according to Dave Filmer of the Metro.
As Steven Gerrard has moved deeper into a holding midfield position from his halcyon days as an all-conquering attacking midfielder, so rumors have persisted in linking Liverpool with a potential replacement.
Isco is now one of many names branded as a “potential long-term replacement” for Gerrard.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Isco’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.
Those familiar with the Spanish football scene will know that Isco has been building a stellar reputation in recent years, and that he deserves every bit of the hype.
It’s been nothing but a meteoric rise to the top for Isco, who secured a £23 million transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu last summer from Malaga, where he had become an integral part of Manuel Pellegrini’s impressive side.
With 14 goals in 69 league games for Malaga, Isco showed that he was an all-rounded attacking midfielder with a productive goals output—and he won the Golden Boy award back in December 2012—and he has arguably improved on that this season with Real Madrid.
Isco notched an assist and scored a late winning goal on his debut against Real Betis and has already recorded seven goals in just 19 La Liga games for Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season.
Besides a calm finish, Isco also possesses a silky first touch, an excellent eye for a pass, and close dribbling skills, making him an archetypal No. 10.
It’s no surprise that Manchester City, having appointed Pellegrini to succeed Roberto Mancini, were heavily linked with him last summer before Real came in at last: He would’ve been an ideal playmaker in an all-star attacking side.
Given his outrageous talent and success thus far, it’s hard to see too many weaknesses in his game.
But his omission from Ancelotti’s first team in recent weeks is telling: He has yet to adapt to the change in Real Madrid’s formation from a 4-2-3-1, which he has traditionally excelled in, to a 4-3-3.
In his place, a straight front three of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have all been in good form, while LukaModric has become a star in the midfield behind them.
Even Ancelotti has acknowledged Isco’s troubles publicly. According to Goal.com, Ancelotti said that Isco “has been penalized slightly” by the change in formation, and that he is not happy to be on the substitute’s bench.
His inability to adapt to the 4-3-3 formation may be a cause for concern for Rodgers, who likes to adopt the same system in his dynamic Liverpool team.
Standing at 5’9”, Isco has spent his entire career in Spain and is a relative novice on the international stage: He’s only made two appearances for the Spanish senior team, and he may miss out on the flight to Brazil if he continues to sit on the sidelines for Real Madrid.
Potential Role at Liverpool
Make no mistake: Isco is a world-class star in the making, and given the right environment, he could become one of the great attacking midfielders of his generation.
The question is, though, whether he would be a good signing for Liverpool.
That Isco has the ability to make an instant impact in the Premier League is almost certain: He has the pedigree and the raw talent to succeed even in a physical league, and his exciting performances in the first half of the season for Real Madrid are evidence enough that he could become a key player for the Reds.
However, a quick glance of his attributes and overall game means that he’s not an essential addition for Liverpool at this stage.
The reason? Philippe Coutinho.
In Coutinho, Liverpool have a bargain £8.5 million signing from last January, who has settled well into the side and developed his physical game as well.
Coutinho’s vision, turn of pace, passing skills and overall playing style are very similar to Isco’s. He has already established himself as a fan favorite and a potential long-term No. 10 in the eyes of Brendan Rodgers.
The only asset that Coutinho is still missing in comparison to Isco’s skill set is his finishing—but that could be honed and developed in the months to come.
At £37 million, Isco would cost more than four times Coutinho did for Liverpool, but play in essentially the same role. Isco would be the undoubted starter given his overall game and finishing ability, butCoutinho’s rise shouldn’t be ignored either.
Isco is a fine player, and it would be a major coup for Liverpool if they manage to secure his transfer from Real Madrid. (Of course, it would be a great achievement for them to finish in the top four in the first place.)
But at £37 million, he would not only represent their record signing, but also a potentially superfluous one, given the encouraging development that the Reds’ very own No. 10, Philippe Coutinho, has shown over the past year.
While Isco would be a brilliant signing and a massive statement of intent, we think that the significant funds that would be put to his transfer would be better used to address other deficiencies in the Liverpool squad.
Surely the defence and the defensive midfield areas are more deserving of major upgrades over the attack.
Isco, for now, should be a luxury and a premium to be targeted only if the rest of the squad is complete.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.