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Atlético linked with Girona forward Dovbyk as part of potential raid on LaLiga’s leaders

It’s probably a good idea to target players from the best team in LaLiga.

Real Betis v Girona FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

The penalty-area brilliance of Antoine Griezmann has masked problems within Atlético Madrid’s forward quartet. Griezmann has scored 16 goals in all competitions this season and, of course, is one strike away from becoming the club’s all-time top scorer, but consistency has eluded his strike partners as of late. Although Álvaro Morata has had a good season overall, he has only two goals from his past nine games, while Ángel Correa is enduring a frigid run in front of goal (one scored from his past 14 games) and Memphis Depay now looks like a husk of a footballer.

This all means that in the winter transfer window — or, more likely, over the summer — Atlético have to consider signing another striker, a deal that usually isn’t cheap if you want a high-quality option that can be called upon to start games. One player rumored to be in Atleti’s orbit is Girona’s Artem Dovbyk, the starting center-forward for the league’s co-leaders at Christmas.

Dovbyk, Girona’s record signing, needed little time to adapt to LaLiga — he’s been one of the league’s best forwards since joining from Dnipro-1 for just under €8 million. In just 1,040 minutes, Dovbyk has scored 11 goals (from 7.1 expected non-penalty goals), an impressive 0.95 goals per 90. No player has more combined goals and assists in Primera this season than Dovbyk, who has set up four goals and buried three penalties — a ton of damage for a player averaging only 23 touches per 90.

Dovbyk stands just over six feet tall and has the profile of a pure center forward. He’s attempted nine take-ons this entire season and has only three progressive carries to his name, but he averages more than seven penalty-area touches every 90 minutes and only three players in LaLiga have taken more touches in the 18-yard box than he has. In addition, just four players have accrued more non-penalty xG than Dovbyk, whose 0.82 xG p90 rivals FC Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski and exceeds Griezmann and Morata.

I find it unlikely Atlético will actually go for Dovbyk, who has a contract to 2028 and has seen his value explode in the first few months of this season (along with several of his teammates). Mundo Deportivo reported that Girona won’t consider offers below €30 million for the 26-year-old, who was available to Atleti — and every other elite European team — for roughly €8 million last summer but ended up in Catalonia instead. And because chief shareholder Miguel Ángel Gil Marín is reluctant to complete deals with figures outside his small circle of agents and friends, I expect Atleti to be priced out of a deal for a player who could keep the seat warm for teenage sensation Samu Omorodion.

Other Girona players on the Rojiblanco radar

Dovbyk isn’t the only Girona star that Mundo Deportivo has connected to Atlético. Midfielder Aleix García is also being “considered,” alongside defenders David López and Arnau Martínez.

Aleix has played every second of all 18 games this season, scoring three goals and assisting four. One of LaLiga’s most creative players, Aleix can play as a pivot or as an interior midfielder, and Atlético were linked with him last year...before he renewed his expiring contract. The 26-year-old has expressed admiration for Diego Simeone, but his new deal runs through 2026 and he won’t be easy to acquire this summer.

Atlético were consistently linked with Arnau earlier this calendar year — and Girona could be more amenable to selling the 20-year-old next summer, seeing as his contract runs down in 2025. Arnau, a former Barcelona prospect, is a right-back by trade but would play as a wide center-back in Atleti’s 3-5-2. He has greatly improved as a passer this season and now sits at 90 percent accuracy — including an impressive 93 percent on passes between 15 and 30 yards — with nearly five passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

David López’s contract expires in 2024, and beginning Jan. 1, Girona’s vice-captain can negotiate with any club. As the 34-year-old would be available on a free transfer, he’s probably the most appealing option to Atlético if the club were to pluck only one player from the co-leaders. López, a strong tackler and highly-accurate passer, previously played for Napoli and Espanyol. He would be recruited to replace Stefan Savić or Axel Witsel, with one of the over-30 central defenders expected to leave Atleti next year.