MADRID (Reuters) - As Atletico Madrid prepare to resume their La Liga title chase with a mouthwatering trip to Sevilla next Sunday, uncertainty surrounds the future of their defence, which has been the bedrock of their sustained success under Diego Simeone.
Captain Diego Godin leads a list of four players who have all been the fulcrum of that reliable rearguard in recent years but have an unclear status at the club whose fortunes they have transformed.
Godin has been the heart and soul of Atletico's revival and is still revered for scoring the goal which clinched the La Liga title in 2014. However, the 32-year-old only has six months left on his contract, meaning he is free to negotiate with other clubs and can leave in June for no transfer fee.
"Atletico and Godin don't see eye-to-eye," Spanish newspaper Marca said on Wednesday, reporting that the player and club made a verbal agreement last August on a new deal after the Uruguayan received an offer from Manchester United, but that no progress has been made on signing a new contract.
Spanish right back Juanfran and Brazilian left back Filipe Luis, both 33, are also in the final six months of their contracts with the club, who boast the best defensive record in La Liga for a fourth consecutive season. Atletico are three points behind leaders Barcelona.
The uncertain status of the trio appears to signal a changing of the guard in Simeone's side, but the coach's long-term plans have also been thrown into doubt by Bayern Munich's pursuit of World Cup winning defender Lucas Hernandez.
Reports that Bayern were ready to trigger the 22-year-old's 80-million-euro (£72.1 million) release clause rocked Atletico’s Christmas celebrations and provoked a series of hurried denials from the Spanish club.
Chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin may have ruled out the player leaving in January, but has left the door open for his departure in July, while Hernandez has done little to stamp out the speculation he could leave the club where he grew up.
"There are plenty of European clubs that I dream of playing for. I'm fine here in Madrid, but I would think about leaving tomorrow if a project interested me," he told French newspaper Le Figaro last week.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)