Manchester City and Manchester United identify two different Atletico Madrid midfielders
Diego Simeone could be losing two of his star players this summer.
Atletico Madrid are in danger of losing two of their best midfielders in the form of Spanish internationals Saul and Rodri, according to reports linking the pair to Manchester United and Manchester City respectively.
As reported by ESPN, United have identified Saul Niguez - who only signed a nine-year contract with the club two years ago and has a release clause of €150m (£128m) - as the perfect midfielder to partner Paul Pogba with Ander Herrera leaving to join PSG, Fred struggling to adapt to the Premier League and Nemanja Matic having the legs of Nemanja Matic, which is to say he might as well not have any legs at all.
A dynamic, box-to-box presence with an eye for goal, Saul has arguably been underutilised during his time at Atletico in Diego Simeone's rigid, defensive banks of four and would greater suit Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's naturally attacking style of play alongside Pogba. With a holding midfielder who isn't Matic or Scott McTominay behind them of course.
United scouts have reportedly been monitoring the player since an impressive loan spell at Rayo Vallecano in 2013/14, but must surely be aware of the difficulty in prising him away from Los Colchoneros, the club he has played for since he was 14 and made over 150 league appearances for.
And that's without mentioning the Atletico crest he famously has tattooed on his body. That being said, Saul's agent has been rumoured to have tested the Premier League waters for a transfer, with Ladislao J. Monino, a journalist with El Pais stating: "Saul's agent is making moves in the English market. The club doesn't want him to go, and they repeat his buyout clause is €150 million, but it's possible he will leave. We have to see how it plays out, but they don't discard that it could happen."
At one point the versatile Saul seemed likely to join Manchester City, but it appears Pep Guardiola has his eye on his midfield partner Rodrigo Hernandez, typically shortened to Rodri, who operates as more of a deep-lying playmaker for Simeone's side.
Since joining Atletico from Villarreal over €20 million (£17m) last summer, Rodri has established himself as a key player at the Wanda Metropolitano as the press-resistant fulcrum between defence and attack. Such is his composure and vision on the ball comparisons to Barcelona's own midfield octopus Sergio Busquets come easy, but Rodri is better off the ball and more physical when winning it back.
For Guardiola, he couldn't have designed a better long-term replacement for Fernandinho had he several disgraced Russian scientists and a laboratory at his disposable, as Rodri comes with all the technical ability and nous required to play as Pep's lone defensive midfielder. Even better for City, his own release clause of €70 million (£59 million) is not only affordable but a positive bargain in comparison to the other prices being floated for frankly inferior midfielders.
At only 22-years-old he still has the ability to improve under Pep and would suit the team far more than Saul, who, for all his versatility and technical quality of his own, would be better playing the roles currently occupied by the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan in the team rather than holding at the base of the midfield.
Whether both clubs will get their men remains to be seen but whatever happens, Atletico are set for an important summer after already selling World Cup-winning defender Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich for a club record €80 million (£68 million) and facing uncertainty regarding the futures of long-term key players such as captain Diego Godin and talisman Antoine Griezmann, let alone Saul and Rodri.
Good luck Diego.