Stefan Savić isn’t the most popular figure at Atlético Madrid — not close, if we’re being frank. The 26-year-old arrived from Fiorentina in 2015 and stood out in his first season, eventually becoming Diego Godín’s partner in central defense as Atlético mounted a title challenge and made a Champions League final. But 2016/17 proved a poor encore for Savić, who looked more like a one-time Manchester City flop as opposed to a potential top-drawer center back.
Savić hasn’t dazzled in 2017/18 either — but he’s started nine of Atlético’s 11 league games and two more in the Champions League. He draws ire nearly every time Diego Simeone’s team sheet is revealed, as he’s often considered Simeone’s worst center half behind stalwart Godín, steady Lucas Hernández and streaky José Giménez. He’s not quite as bad as some make him out to be, but he lacks Lucas’ pace, Giménez’s attitude and Godín’s positional knowledge and seems to start every game anyway.
What’s more, Godín and Savić are similar players who do not complement each other well — much like how Antoine Griezmann often struggles when next to a smaller striker like Ángel Correa. Their pairing usually results in shaky performances in Atlético’s defense; Atleti have conceded in four of the eight games Godín and Savić have started this season, and the team has won only three of those eight games.
Yet earlier this week, AS reported that Atlético want to renew Savić’s contract, which runs until 2020. Sporting director Andrea Berta is said to be leading the charge as Atleti’s hierarchy evaluates Simeone’s
underachieving squad. This makes me think there’s something else at play here: perhaps Atleti are starting to consider Savić as an eventual Godín replacement — and that may not be an awful idea.
Savić turns 27 in January. Godín is 31 going on 32, and he’s looked his age this season with and without the mustachioed Montenegrin next to him. Godín’s 2.3 aerial duels won per 90 minutes is his lowest mark since 2011/12. His clearances per 90 — which hit a high-water mark of 7.1 during the 2013/14 league title march — have fallen to just 4.6. His interceptions and tackles are down, too. A lot of this is due to playing next to Savić, but the pharaoh is getting old, too. It’s definitely not too soon to start thinking about the future — especially as his contract is up in 2019.
Meanwhile, Savić is fourth in clearances per 90 minutes among center backs with at least 630 minutes played this season. With Savić only and no Godín this season, Atlético are 1-2-0, but that includes their best win of the season against Sevilla and an impressive draw at Valencia.
Stefan Savić isn't always Atlético's most consistent CB, but he led the way with 8 clearances in the win against Sevilla. Big performance. pic.twitter.com/MS6gNJANuS— Jeremy Beren (@JBBeren) September 24, 2017
Although he hasn’t been very good in the air this season, in the past Savić has shown a proclivity to win aerial duels, winning at least two per 90 minutes every season since 2011/12. He’s an effective shot blocker too, and while his tackle + interception statistics run a little low, that’s due to his more static positioning — much like Godín (yet another reason why playing the two together is almost suicidal).
It’s tempting to think that Savić could flourish when not paired with someone who is essentially an older, more polished (and more Uruguayan) version of him. Atlético apparently feel he has more to offer, and given the club’s complicated financial outlook, replacing older stars from within is undoubtedly attractive. For these reasons, a Savić renewal is something to keep an eye on.