Atletico Madrid entered the current season in an apparent state of flux. They moved out of their Vicente Calderon home and into the modern, yet comparatively soulless, Wanda Metropolitano.
By December they were unceremoniously eliminated from the Champions League group stages and by February, their squad had been reduced to 17 outfield players.
Spanish international duo Vitolo and Diego Costa – both following protracted and controversial transfers – arrived, but a series of players departed.
Augusto Fernandez, Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan all left for China, whilst Miguel Angel Moya and Luciano Vietto were sanctioned moves to La Liga rivals.
By mid-March, they had lost just one league fixture and looked to be potential title challengers. This may not have materialised, but by finishing second they secured only their second-ever finish ahead of city rivals Real Madrid this century.
This promises to be a busy summer with initial focus on retaining star forward Antoine Griezmann, who has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.
It is expected they will make at least five additions to their first team squad, with Villarreal midfielder Rodri Hernandez set to be the first.
The 21-year-old spent six years at Atleti’s academy before joining the Yellow Submarine in 2013 and has gone on to make 80 appearances for the club.
The highly rated midfielder won his first senior international cap in March, appearing against Germany, after starring for his nation at youth level.
Sergio Busquets II
The deep-lying midfielder has made 41 starts this season and has excelled for Villarreal, whose fifth-placed finish ensured a return to European football next season.
A key part of this success was midfielder Rodri, and his style of play has drawn comparisons with Sergio Busquets of Barcelona. It is thought he will prove the long-term successor at international level, while at club level he is expected to be phased in for long-serving captain Gabi Fernandez.
Rodri acts as an effective shield for the defence, displaying excellent levels of concentration and positioning. Without any notable weaknesses, he likes to keep things simple in the middle of the pitch with accurate, reassuring passing.
For instance, Rodri had an 89% pass success rate, just short of Busquets’ 90%, and completed 1837 passes, 187 more than Barcelona’s number five.
He is a strong tackler and while he concedes plenty of free-kicks, these are usually tactical concessions. To support this, one needs only look at Rodri’s defensive stats. The Spaniard made 65 tackles and 71 interceptions in La Liga, highlighting his ability to break up play effectively.
Increasingly, he is displaying an attacking threat and even registered two assists in the final day draw against Real Madrid.
The first addition
Club president Fernando Roig, who has overseen the sale of several star players, has lamented Atletico’s approach for the midfielder:
Atletico are a club who say one thing then do another. We are not a club who will stand in the way of a player who has a desire to leave, and while we always want to keep our best players as long as possible, that is football. – Roig in MARCA.
It is thought the talented midfielder will join Diego Simeone’s side in a deal worth an initial €20m, with a further €5m of performance-related attainable bonuses included.
He looks set to be the first major addition of a potentially exciting summer for the newly-crowned Europa League winners.