It was a new-look Atlético Madrid which lined up against Getafe on Sunday night. Fresh faces took over at full-back, and most excitingly in attack as João Félix started. At centre-back, though, the names on the teamsheet weren’t quite so novel. We had José María Giménez, who has been in the capital since 2013, and Stefan Savić, who joined in 2015. It’s a new era, sure, but Jan Oblak was protected by two Vicente Calderón-era players.
Giménez is to be the leader in defence this season. He is the clear long-term heir to Diego Godín, even taking his fellow Uruguayan’s No.2 shirt. Question marks hover over the other centre-back spot, though. For the first game of the season, Diego Simeone opted for Savić and it was a logical decision. He knows the system better than Felipe and Mario Hermoso do at this point, and it’s important to have some continuity when beginning a new campaign.
Although he has many doubters — this writer included — Savić played so well that it might be several weeks before we see Felipe and Hermoso start at the back. Perhaps it’s now a question of “if” the 28-year-old drops out of the lineup, rather than “when.”
Getafe hardly threatened Oblak’s goal and Savić is a major reason for that. Alongside Giménez, he was a wall and especially strong in the air. He was brave, too — not least in the 74th minute when he threw his head in the direction of the ball and also Marc Cucurella’s swinging boot. Nobody on the Atleti side made more tackles, clearances or blocks than he did Sunday.
It seems Savić is here to stay, at least for the moment, and this is especially intriguing as we’ll get to see him work alongside Giménez — something we’ve rarely witnessed. Given they were competitors for so many years for the role of Godín’s sidekick, it’s logical they didn’t play together much. Sunday night was actually just the 23rd time that duo has completed 90 minutes together, even though they’ve been in the same squad for over four years.
Atlético had to go out and attack the centre-back transfer market after Godín and Lucas Hernández departed. But for now, their new starting central defensive pairing is one that was there all along.