When Alvaro Negredo turned Michael Dawson inside the box before emphatically smashing the ball into the back of the Tottenham net during Manchester City’s 6-0 home win against Spurs in November, it was the mark of a player so clearly in form.
It was done with breathless ease, holding off an experienced Premier League defender with one arm, before bamboozling him with a beautiful turn and superb finish.
He had taken English football by storm after his initial £16.4 million move from Sevilla, scoring 23 goals in his first 32 games and leading the line with quality. City, you felt, had bagged themselves a bargain.
His touch and technique looked unusually good for such a big striker, and his ability to bully defenders made him one of the most feared forwards in the league—the perfect foil for the more nimble Sergio Aguero. He was the striker City had needed for so long: quick, powerful, with superb vision and ability to play with his back to goal.
Toward the end of January, though, his excellence dried up; he became a player who was clearly and inexplicably struggling. The man who had been terrorising defences weeks earlier suddenly looked bereft of any confidence. He didn’t score in any of his last 16 games, often looking unable to influence games at all.
It was a strange season. Rarely has a player’s form faltered so drastically, but he can still count his first season as a success. His 23 goals in all competitions in a new league and new surroundings is an excellent return, even if the pervading feeling was one of what could have been had he replicated his scoring ratio from the first half of the season.
Rumours about his unhappiness in England began to emanate toward the end of the season, with his family apparently struggling to settle. With Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in need of a replacement for Diego Costa, it is now thought Negredo is the man they have lined up to fill the gap, as reported by David McDonnell in the Mirror.
City, though, are in a decent position to bargain with Atletico or any potential suitor. They don’t want to lose Negredo. Manager Manuel Pellegrini is a believer in his talent, and his patient approach to management suggests he would be prepared to start afresh this season and hope the striker could regain the form he showed early in the last campaign.
However, if Negredo makes it clear he would prefer a move, then City, whose net spend this summer is restricted to £49 million as a consequence of FFP sanctions, will be able to bring money in to use on purchases elsewhere.
Alexis Sanchez, a player who looks set to leave Barcelona despite his fine form at this summer’s World Cup, is one potential replacement. He is a superb player unlucky to be on the periphery at Camp Nou, with pace and directness his defining features.
A move to Arsenal has been suggested, but City, whose position as defending champions makes them a desirable destination for any player, would surely be able to strike a deal if Negredo were to leave.
What’s certain is that City are in a win-win situation. If Negredo remains at the club, they have a fine striker ready to build on his first season in English football. If he goes, he’ll demand a substantial fee that they can reinvest in their squad at a time when restrictions have been placed on their spending.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.