With Tosin Adarabioyo’s loan deal from Manchester City expiring at the end of last season, Blackburn Rovers were always going to have to bring in a new centre back during the summer transfer window.
It had initially seemed as though Wigan Athletic’s Cedric Kipre might have been the man to fill that role, although the 23-year-old instead made the move to the Premier League with West Brom.
Blackburn however, remained undeterred in their pursuit of a centre back, and eventually found one in the shape of Daniel Ayala, with the Spaniard signing a three-year deal to join on a free transfer following his departure from Middlesbrough earlier in the year.
But how have things gone for Ayala since he made that move to Lancashire? And what does the future hold for him at Ewood Park?
Here, we take a look in our latest “hat-trick” feature.
How’s it gone so far?
Even before he set for on the pitch, Daniel Ayala’s Blackburn story had already been an eventful one.
Speaking after his side’s win over Doncaster in the Carabao Cup at the end of August, manager Tony Mowbray revealed he was under the impression a deal for a centre back – who later turned out to be Ayala – had been done.
However, it then looked as though that had fallen through amid interest in the defender from Saud Arabia, although with no move materialising, Rovers then swooped again to bring Ayala to Ewood Park.
Having not played for Middlesbrough since January, Ayala was not rushed into the side, with his first start coming in the last game before the October international break, when he impressed in keeping the physical Kieffer Moore quiet in a goalless draw at home to Cardiff.
Ayala has then started in Blackburn’s two games since the break, where despite back to back defeats to Nottingham Forest and Watford, the 29-year-old again looked consistently solid, until he was forced off through injury midway through the second half of Wednesday night’s match at Vicarage Road.
What issues does he face?
The immediate issue for Ayala to deal with is the injury he suffered against Watford.
With Mowbray revealing that the groin problem that forced him off against the Hornets might not rule him out of Saturday’s trip to Coventry, it seems as though that is something he ought to be able to do fairly quickly.
If however, Mowbray chooses not to use him at St Andrews’, that could lead to some selection competition for Ayala.
Having missed Rovers’ last two games due to a period of self-isolation after being caught in the Republic of Ireland’s Covid outbreak during the international break, Derrick Williams – who started the season so well for Blackburn – could come back into the side in place of the Spaniard.
Should Williams then go on to play like he did earlier in the campaign, it could then become difficult for Ayala to force his way back ahead of the Irishman in the pecking order.
It is also worth noting that with Blackburn pushing for promotion this season, Ayala’s status as one of those within the squad who has previously achieved that feat in the Championship – doing so with ‘Boro in 2016 – his experience doing that could be something Rovers turn to for guidance and insight at times this season.
You still imagine there will be plenty of opportunities for playing time for Ayala in the next few weeks.
With so many games coming in such a short space of time, Mowbray could be tempted to rotate his side in certain positions.
One of those could well be central defence, given Rovers poor injury record in that position in recent seasons, potentially providing plenty of game time for Ayala, which he will no doubt be determined to take.
As a result, he will have to make sure he is fully recovered from that blow sustained against Watford, so as to avoid the risk of making things worth for himself or his side from a fitness perspective.