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Stefan Savić is Atlético Madrid’s new defensive leader

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Simeone’s shift to a 3-4-1-2 formation has improved not only Atlético’s attack, but its league-best defense, too.

Atletico Madrid v Sevilla - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Stefan Savić is not one of Atlético Madrid’s four captains, but make no mistake — now that he’s fully healthy and thriving in Diego Simeone’s new setup, the 30-year-old has grown into a crucial figure for the league leaders.

Savić has missed only three games in all competitions this season — one through suspension, two through rest. He’s played 88 percent of all available minutes in LaLiga, far and away a career-best. Only one other player with more than 10 appearances has bettered Savić’s mark of 2.64 points-per-match. In other words, Thomas Lemar (nearly 2.8 ppm) is the only rojiblanco who has proven a better barometer of team success than Savić when on the pitch.

But on an individual level, Savić is more comfortable within an Atlético side which is more open structurally. It sounds slightly counterintuitive, but something for which Simeone’s 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 allows is more width in the defensive third. When in possession, it’s easier to find passing avenues into midfield and advance the ball into more-dangerous positions. For example, Mario Hermoso has used the space on offer to become the team’s most progressive passer, his line-breaking deliveries often serving as a catalyst for sustained possession.

In Savić’s case, he is attempting more long passes traveling 30-plus yards than ever before. He is completing these passes at a career-best rate, too (72 percent on nearly 14 attempts per 90 minutes). However, the veteran defender — now in his sixth season with Atlético — has also been more decisive and controlling in the penalty area in front of Jan Oblak. Savić has won more aerial duels than any other rojiblanco and has committed less than one foul per 90 minutes (0.86), one of the lowest rates on the team. And only Felipe — who has played over 400 fewer minutes — has produced more ball recoveries per 90 minutes among Atleti defenders. Savić has made the most recoveries with 147 in 14 league appearances.

The best statistic of all, though, might be that “goals conceded” column in the league table. Atleti have conceded five goals with Savić on the pitch and six total — the next closest teams are Real Madrid and Sevilla, with 15 allowed. Simeone’s men are on track to have the league’s best defense again, and Savić’s long-mooted emergence as a defensive stalwart is a big reason as to why.

(All statistics courtesy of fbref.com.)

Atletico de Madrid v Sevilla FC - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

FIFA has upheld Kieran Trippier’s appalling, egregious, unjust worldwide ban for “betting violations,” but Atlético have a plan to delay its further implementation. The club is set to appeal its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the CAS’ rulings supersede FIFA’s.

(If the letters “CAS” sound familiar, it’s the same body that denied Atlético’s transfer ban appeal in 2017.)

If the CAS agrees to hear the case and suspends the ban once more, Trippier is free to continue playing for Atlético. What’s more, since the English FA failed to revise the dates on which the ban would be in place, it will end on Feb. 28 irrespective of whether Trippier serves any more of it.

So, Atleti will hope Trippier’s suspension gets tied up in court long enough to where it will expire. And in the meantime, Sky Bet will be among the organizations creating exciting new markets, all of questionable ethical and/or legal standing.

Should go without saying, but the Trippier situation is nonsense, and it is a complete disgrace.

Levante UD v Club Atletico de Madrid- Supercopa de Espana Femenina: Final Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I would be remiss if I did not mention Atlético Femenino in today’s column. After José Luís Sánchez Vera returned to the bench following his October 2019 dismissal, Atlético eliminated league leaders Barcelona on penalties and thrashed Levante 3-0 to win its first Supercopa Femenina.

New signing Ajara Njoya hit a brace in the final — her second goal must be seen to be believed — after rising star Deyna Castellanos opened the scoring, as Atlético sealed its first trophy since a third-consecutive Liga Iberdrola title in 2019.

The 2019/20 season was transitional in nature and saw Atleti finish nine points behind champions Barça. The rojiblancas sit fifth this year despite the squad’s reshuffling, but they sit just three points behind second place Real Madrid and remain alive in the Women’s Chapmpions League. After Dani González’s surprise firing as coach last week, Sánchez Vera took the reins once more and guided the team to its first trophy in more than 18 months.

Midfielder Virginia Torrecilla — who underwent surgery in May to remove a brain tumor — presented her teammates with the trophy and shared an emotional moment with team captain Amanda Sampedro during the celebration.