Manchester City are not giving up on their dream deal for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, but Real Madrid pair Isco and Karim Benzema will reportedly top the English club's shopping list in the new year.
According to the Sun's Charlie Wyett, the Citizens will launch a summer move for Messi, but the club already has a £32 million bid for out-of-favour Isco in its sights.
It was City manager Manuel Pellegrini who brought Isco to Malaga from Valencia in 2011, and the Chilean has long been reported as seeking a reunion with his former Anchovies prodigy.
Wyett reported City chief executive Ferran Soriano had already met with Real Madrid negotiator Jose Angel Sanchez to thrash out terms, but according to Bleacher Report's Rob Pollard, that meeting never happened:
Club have said the reported meeting between Soriano and Real Madrid general manager José Ángel Sánchez to discuss Isco didn't happen.— Rob (@RobPollard_) December 29, 2015
Isco has made 16 starts in his 20 appearances this season, but his involvement is likely to decline now that Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez are fit following earlier injury absences.
Los Blancos boss Rafa Benitez was recently quoted by ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan when asked why Isco wasn't in the squad for Wednesday's squad in the 3-1 win over Real Sociedad:
Rafa on why again didnt use Isco or Jese: “We have 24 players in the squad, and can only use 14 in each game. That’s the answer.”— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) December 30, 2015
Isco arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2013 for a fee of €30 million (£22 million), so the club would have their chance to make a considerable profit should City's £32 million valuation be found as genuine.
Benzema isn't having the same struggles on the pitch as his Spanish team-mate, but instead it's been off-field distractions that have kept him in the spotlight this season.
The Press Association reported in November that Mathieu Valbuena appeared in court as an alleged victim of blackmail after Benzema was charged with conspiracy in the case (h/t Daily Mail).
The striker has 11 goals in 11 La Liga starts this season, but there's the underlying suspicion Real may be more open to the idea of parting ways with Benzema in the wake of such a controversy.
Borussia Dortmund ace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is mentioned as the other target on City's radar, and it's clear Pellegrini has attacking reinforcements in mind as Sergio Aguero's injury woes linger on.
Wilfried Bony has led the club's line in the Argentinian's absence, but City fans expressed their disappointment at seeing Aguero hauled off in the 0-0 draw against Leicester City, per James Robson of the Manchester Evening News:
Bony on for Aguero. Plenty of booing from the 3000 travelling fans— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) December 29, 2015
According to a report from the Sun (h/t Tomas Andreu of Spanish newspaper Sport), the Citizens will make a "huge offer" for Messi. Andreu added City will look to use their mega money to the fullest and offer the forward €27 million (£19.9 million) per season.
Messi, Benzema and Isco would all be tall orders in 2016 given the status of the clubs they play for, but the latter will surely be seen as the most plausible January recruit for City considering his lack of prominence under Benitez.
However, supporters may yet hold out hope of signing Messi after MEN's Robson reported this week that Bayern Munich chief Pep Guardiola is "certain" to join City in the summer—and a reunion with his former Barca protege could be on the cards.