Atlético Madrid took a potentially very valuable point away from Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday evening and, above all, they had a Uruguayan centre-back to thank for it.
No, not Diego Godín. The star defender on this occasion was José Maria Giménez.
The 23-year-old was everywhere and finished the match with an impressive stat line, making nine clearances, blocking four shots, coming up with two interceptions and much more. He was just as defiant against dangerous veterans Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema as he was against raw talents Dani Ceballos and Vinícius Júnior.
However, despite all this, there is a good chance Giménez wouldn’t have been on the pitch had Stefan Savić been fit.
Giménez may have been the starter alongside Godín and ahead of Savić for most of 2015/16, but the Montenegrin made the position his by the end of that campaign and was then given more starts than Giménez in each of the following two seasons.
Although Giménez’s ceiling is higher than Savić’s, Diego Simeone seems to be much more comfortable with the 27-year-old — and he may well have preferred to have Savić available for Saturday’s derby. While it’s true that Giménez sometimes runs around the pitch in erratic and frantic fashion — leaving behind him a trail like the scribbles you make on a piece of paper when your pen is running out of ink — his Bernabéu recital showed off the massive upside inherent to starting an in-form Josema.
In addition to his defensive mopping-up, “El Comandante” (Atlético Twitter’s nickname for him) can provide a serious threat in the opposition’s penalty area. He’s scored seven goals for Atlético compared to Savić’s one.
“Simeone should take note of Gimenez’s aerial prowess,” wrote MARCA after his recent winner against Monaco in the Champions League.
There are no guarantees that the coach will take note, though. There’s really no assurance that los rojiblancos’ central defensive pairing will be an exclusively South American one in the coming weeks and months.
Giménez is so good and so talented that he has become a problem for Simeone, who can expect Savić to return from a calf injury in the next week or so. Does the Argentine go for the disciplined-but-limited Savić for the next big match — such as the upcoming trips to Villarreal and Borussia Dortmund — or does he roll the dice and hope Giménez can replicate his Bernabéu masterclass?
Many Atleti fans would like to see more of the No. 24, even if there is an element of unpredictability whenever he is in the starting XI. Josema does pose some problems to a coach — there’s no doubt about that. But it doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution out there.