The 2019/20 season is only seven matches old, but already Diego Simeone has scribbled down five different central defensive combinations on his teamsheets.
With the departures of Diego Godín and Lucas Hernández and the arrivals of Mario Hermoso and Felipe Monteiro, the central defense department was flipped upside down during the summer months and this was always going to be a season of change.
It’s clear that José María Giménez is a starter. He’s a leader at the club and will occupy one of the central defensive slots most weeks. The Uruguayan didn’t play in Mallorca on Wednesday night so that he could enjoy a well-earned rest after playing every other minute of the season so far.
In his absence, Felipe and Stefan Savić played together on the island in the 2-0 victory, but as much as they were teammates on the night they’ll know that they are competitors for minutes in the upcoming matches. Wednesday night was simply the latest audition to be Giménez’s sidekick.
Giménez has already had at least one match with each of the other three centre-backs in the squad. He and Hermoso formed the pairing against Eibar. He and Felipe did so against Celta Vigo. And Giménez has formed a duo with Savić on three occasions — against Getafe, Real Sociedad and Juventus. As I wrote in this space after the opening week of the season, Savić was excellent in the opening match against Getafe and the position was his to lose. Since then, the Montenegrin hasn’t really done anything to lose it. But Simeone has given others the chance to try to win it.
Simeone has tinkered like never before with his central defence. He has had to do so. With half the group changing over the summer, he can only discover what his new players are truly made of through trial and error.
The Argentine has experiment so much that one of the five central defensive combinations used this season was the back three of Savić, Giménez and Hermoso which took to the field in the second round away at Leganés. That test was scrapped halfway through the second half to bring on Vitolo as Atlético Madrid sought — and found — the winner, but it showed that Simeone is thinking outside the box when he contemplates who should defend his box.
I expect to see a Savić-Giménez pairing for the Madrid derby this weekend, as a match against Real Madrid is really never a good time to continue toying around with the defense. But Simeone will surely keep trying out different defensive duos as he tries to work out which one works best for him.
We’ve still to see pairings of Felipe-Hermoso and Savić-Hermoso, but those are the only two boxes left on the 2019/20 centre-back bingo card. And I’m sure we’ll see them before long.