It was not the sight any Atletico Madrid fan wanted to see. Watching their world-class centre-back Diego Godin limp off the field after just 11 minutes was even worse than witnessing their title rivals Barcelona destroy Deportivo La Coruna.
It appeared as if he had a hamstring injury and the club confirmed that was the case. It means that Godin will be missing for this Saturday’s match against Malaga and, far more importantly, for their Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich next Wednesday.
In seasons gone by that would have surely have been too big a blow for Atletico to cope with, but things are different this campaign. Atletico actually have some strength in depth at that position and, as such, they were able to bring on the more-than-capable Lucas Hernandez to replace Godin on Wednesday evening. The 20-year-old Atletico youth teamer was promoted to the seniors this season and has been incredibly useful, even playing 180 minutes of the club’s Champions League quarter-final triumph against Barcelona.
When he came on for Godin at San Mames, it was obviously a downgrade, but not much of one. Hernandez made four interceptions and won all of his tackles against Athletic Bilbao, helping the Madrid side to a vital 1-0 win.
Alongside Lucas was Stefan Savic, another example of Atletico’s strength in depth at centre-back. The summer signing from Fiorentina was covering the absence of Jose Gimenez, the highly-rated 21-year-old ‘next Godin’. Savic, like Hernandez, played well and made an impressive 12 clearances over the course of the Bilbao match, consistently buying the Atletico defence breathing space when they needed it most.
Gimenez is expected to be back for the first leg against Bayern Munich and is a sure starter, while Savic and Hernandez are equally capable of filling in for the injured Godin. In matches without Godin last season, Atletico earned 2.0 points and conceded 1.25 goals per match, while this season they have earned 2.4 points on average and let in 1.0 goal on average in matches played without him. With Hernandez and Savic they have better cover for Godin than they ever have during Diego Simeone’s tenure.
Not only do Atletico have better replacements at centre-back, but the Atletico defence as a unit is stronger than ever before. Juanfran is as comfortable with his right-back position as he ever has been since making the switch from winger to defender a few seasons ago, while Filipe Luis has matured with his one season apprenticeship with Chelsea in the Premier League and is playing the best football of his career.
Godin is still the heart of Atletico’s defence and will always be missed, but his supporting cast has improved both individually and as a unit this season and they can, therefore, cope with the loss of their leader. It was always going to be tough against Bayern, but the loss of Godin does not actually make it that much tougher.