Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool visit mid-table Watford on Monday night (8pm kick-off) knowing they have battle on their hands to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
The Reds went down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their eight-match unbeaten run in the league, with former striker Christian Benteke coming back to haunt them with a brace following Philippe Coutinho’s opener.
And that defeat, their sixth of the season, has thrown their top four hopes into jeopardy as they have played a game more than both Manchester City and Manchester United, and they are just one and two points behind respectively.
And with Arsenal also just two points behind Jose Mourinho’s United, and with two games in hand on Klopp’s men, there is much to play for behind now and the end of the season for the Merseyside outfit, but that hasn’t stopped speculation building about who they may look to sign in the summer.
And one man they have been linked with again in recent days is Real Madrid playmaker Isco, who has seen his gametime in the Spanish capital significantly reduce this season.
The 25-year-old has managed just 16 La Liga starts this term under Zinedine Zidane, and as a result has been repeatedly linked with a move away from the Bernabeu this season, with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool thought to be interested.
Yet it’s a deal Klopp must look to get done this summer if his side are to be competitive on both domestic and European fronts next season.
And that’s because the Spain international has all the capabilities and potential to run the Liverpool midfield for many years to come.
Isco signed for Real Madrid back in 2013 after impressing at fellow Spanish outfit Malaga, and has since gone on to make 185 appearances for the European champions, and net 32 times.
And even though he hasn’t quite been involved as regularly this season as in the past, the 25-year-old has still managed ten goals and six assists in 27 La Liga appearances, which equates to a direct contribution every 92 minutes.
And it’s these sorts of contributions and telling differences which a Liverpool side could do with from the midfield area especially as, when you take Coutinho and Sadio Mane out of the team, they struggle to carry the same sort of attacking threat.
Brazil international Coutinho got injured against Sunderland back in November and has only recently hit form again, while Klopp’s men failed to win any of the seven games Mane missed due to African Cup of Nations commitments in January.
The Reds are too reliant on certain individuals to get the job done, and with a thin squad, they will get seriously tested by their European campaign next season, be it in the Champions League or the Europa League.
So having someone like Isco available would be invaluable, as his versatility could see him play anywhere in Klopp’s team, be it as part of the midfield three, in a slightly deeper role, or as part of the front three given his incisive movement and ability to create from anywhere in the final third.
Klopp may even look to change his system to accommodate Isco given the Spaniard’s incredible technical ability and creativity, and he could be forced to should Barcelona follow-through their reported interest in Coutinho with a bid this summer.
The 24-year-old was linked with a move to the Nou Camp earlier this month as the Catalans plan for a new era under a new manager next season, and should a deal be forthcoming, Klopp will simply have to have a ready-made replacement lined up.
And Isco could be that man.
Coutinho has often been Liverpool’s go-to man when they are in need of something special – just look at last weekend’s free-kick against Palace – and Isco also has that in his locker.
Cast your minds back to a friendly at Wembley in November, and you’ll remember that Isco came off the bench with Spain 2-0 down against England, and it was he that inspired them to come back and grab a 2-2 draw.
Although that was only a friendly, that was a clear indication of his ability to change a game and make a telling difference – he could have that effect at Liverpool, which is why Klopp should do all he can to secure a deal for the playmaker this summer.