Atletico Madrid's season has deteriorated in the past week or two as their title challenge has faltered in La Liga and a tough draw in the UEFA Champions League, coupled with a spate of defensive injuries, means their European hopes are on the brink, too.
There's still plenty to look forward to in the coming seasons though, with a youthful squad having plenty of growth left in them—including with players who are out on loan this term, such as forward Borja Baston, at Eibar, and right-back Javier Manquillo at Marseille.
The latter has impressed at times but has one of the biggest challenges to win a spot in the first team, which is currently occupied by Spain's first choice in the position, Juanfran. Manquillo has been putting in promising displays for a couple of seasons, but can he realistically break through at the Vicente Calderon?
Manquillo so far
The Spanish youth international spent a tough 2014-15 season on loan at Liverpool, where he struggled to find favour under Brendan Rodgers and had his two-year spell at the club cut short in the summer. A move to Marseille followed as a result, where he has played much more frequently—but not with always the level of success hoped for.
Plenty of game time is a huge positive, of course, with Manquillo clocking up 3,000 minutes in all competitions so far. However, as French football journalist Andrew Gibney explained to me, his time on the pitch has been mixed:
It's been a difficult season for Manquillo, mirrored by the awful season Marseille are having. He's had to play more on the left of late and that has taken away his ability to really join the attack. His crossing has looked poor from the left, but it's to be expected. His best period was probably in January, he played well in the win over Caen and the away draw against Lyon, but it's hard to praise anyone too much in that OM team.
Manquillo does remain part of the Spanish under-21 side and should be involved in the remaining qualifying matches for the UEFA European Championships, played at the end of next season.
Atletico would, in the normal course of events, view their defence as an area of great strength—it's currently decimated by injuries, but Cholo Simeone has at his disposal six extremely reliable seniors who play across the back four.
Two of those are on the right side most frequently: Juanfran, the first pick and a Spain regular heading into UEFA Euro 2016, and Jesus Gamez, a dependable deputy who operates on either side.
Manquillo is probably more adept than Gamez while entering the final third in possession, but Juanfran has evolved over the past few seasons to be an extremely important part of Atleti's buildup and recycling of play.
Add in Juanfran being more experienced, trusted by the manager and a top-class defender, and it's tough to see Manquillo being anywhere near the first XI next season—though there's certainly a squad role to play if he is keen on attempting to bide his time and impress in spells...if and when the opportunity arises.
The full-back positions are not often rotated for Los Rojiblancos, outside the Copa del Rey.
Atletico's squad has undergone plenty of changes in the past season or two, not just in personnel but also in age.
The overall approach clearly points to Simeone being happy to give opportunities to new, younger faces to make an impact and force their way into the team—Angel Correa, Matias Kranevitter and Luciano Vietto, for example—so Manquillo has every chance to be part of that.
He won't be walking into the team and will likely struggle to play more than half a dozen times in La Liga as Juanfran's back-up, barring injury, but at 32 years of age at the end of next season, the ongoing changes to Atletico's team could also include Juanfran by 2017.
If Manquillo is patient enough to hang around and show progression in his game overall, he could yet break through as the next graduate to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Koke and Saul.
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