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Atlético win race for César Azpilicueta; defender signs on a free transfer

Azpi was set to join Inter, but Los Colchoneros have hijacked the deal.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg One Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Update, July 6: Atlético have confirmed Azpilicueta’s arrival after the player completed his medical on Thursday.

Azpilicueta said “goodbye” to Chelsea in an emotional interview published just 90 minutes before Atlético announced his signing, and 24 hours before the start of preseason training. The club’s official statement says Azpi has signed for only one season — but Rubén Uría has reported that all parties are confident the Spain defender will easily trigger an automatic renewal to 2025.

“At 33 years old, (Azpilicueta) is a defender with ample experience in international football,” the club statement read. “He is versatile, playing as a central defender and right-back, and will bring the demonstrated leadership throughout his career, which was further enhanced during his last period at Chelsea FC, where he was the captain of the London-based team.”

Atlético previously announced Söyüncü’s signing on Wednesday, and Azpilicueta’s arrival is expected to complete Cholo Simeone’s defense for 2023/24. Young center-back Santiago Mouriño’s transfer has also been wrapped up, but he is set to go on loan once the club announces his signing.

The original story, from June 30, is below.

Atlético Madrid are poised to wrap up the surprise signing of longtime Chelsea FC skipper César Azpilicueta, according to multiple reports Friday.

Fabrizio Romano was first to report that Atlético had made a move for Azpilicueta, seeking to capitalize on the player’s desire to return to Spain after 13 years away from LaLiga. Azpilicueta had reportedly reached a verbal agreement to sign for Champions League finalists Inter Milan, but Atleti’s late entry into the race changed everything.

Diego Simeone is a longtime fan of Azpilicueta, who was close to signing for FC Barcelona last summer before agreeing to a two-year extension with the Blues. The Navarre native made over 500 appearances for Chelsea and won nine trophies at the club, including two Premier League titles, two Europa League titles, and the European Cup in 2021.

When Azpi signed his extension with Chelsea, there was an understanding he would be allowed to leave for free or for a small fee whenever he wanted — meaning Atlético will be signing him for little to nothing at all.

Azpilicueta could be a huge addition to a back line that immediately looks stronger and more competitive than a season ago (taking the nearly-complete Javi Galán transfer into account). The 33-year-old has vast experience at right-back and at center-back, having played both positions at a high level for many years. He made only 16 starts on a bad Chelsea team last season, but he continues to grade out highly in several defensive metrics — including blocks, clearances, tackles, and aerials won.

If his signing is confirmed, Azpilicueta will provide quality cover for first-choice right-back Nahuel Molina (in a four- or five-man defense), and he will compete for minutes in central defense with José Giménez, Mario Hermoso, Stefan Savić, and Çağlar Söyüncü (whose signing is expected to be announced early next month) — while Reinildo Mandava can play as a wide center-back or compete with Galán for minutes at left-back.