While Chelsea pluck away the stars of Atletico Madrid’s remarkable season, Liverpool have dug a little deeper to uncover Javier Manquillo, a player tipped by many in Spain to be one of the future centrepieces of Diego Simeone’s team.
When the 29-year-old agreed a contract extension to 2018, Manquillo may have been convinced his future lay elsewhere in the knowledge that both the Reds and Arsenal were interested.
Liverpool, in fact, came close to sealing a move for the right-back in January, according to Spanish newspaper AS. That deal fell apart late in the day due to Atletico’s insistence that a buy-back clause must be included - they do not want to wave goodbye to an asset. Now, according to reports, it is Liverpool who have the option to buy.
Still only 20, Manquillo should play more football over the course of his two-year loan at Anfield and will join the club on more of a level playing field with positional rivals such as Jon Flanagan and Martin Kelly.
Glen Johnson, Brendan Rodgers’ most experienced right-back, is far more likely to be dropped to the bench than Juanfran if the struggles that marked his end to the 2013-14 campaign continue.
Originally a Real Madrid academy player before making the short move to Atletico, Manquillo is, it is not a surprise to learn, an attack-minded full-back with plenty of pace and the energy to raid up and down the flank all game long.
Though his performances can only be judged on a very small sample size, Manquillo’s enthusiasm is illustrated by the fact he played more passes in the final third and made more tackles on average than Juanfran last season.
Manquillo’s hopes of forcing his way into first-team contention were not helped in February when, during a Copa del Rey tie against Real Madrid (his seventh game in 23 days), he collided in the air with Cristiano Ronaldo and landed awkwardly on his neck.
He was fortunate to escape with a fractured vertebra that was supposed to rule him out for six weeks, but he did not play again as Atletico won La Liga and progressed to the Champions League final.
Fit and healthy now, there seems very little for Liverpool to lose in their deal to acquire the 20-year-old on a loan deal.
Rodgers will closely monitor the youngster’s progress before deciding whether or not to exercise any option to make the switch permanent.
The Reds will hope he can become part of a back line that could be entirely remodelled if Alberto Moreno joins Manquillo and Dejan Lovren on Merseyside.