Trying to help his team become the second from the Spanish capital to qualify for the UEFA Champions League semifinals, Stefan Savić went from composed center back to savage at the drop of a hat.
After a scoreless and contentious first 90 minutes of Atlético’s quarterfinal second leg against Manchester City, the simmering tensions between the teams exploded with one harsh tackle. City’s Phil Foden dribbled the ball down the field and took time off the clock with his team up 1-0 on aggregate after a home victory in the first leg last week. Madrid defender Felipe first made a clean tackle to strip Foden from the ball. Then the Brazilian decided to be a little shit.
In the same motion as his slide tackle, Felipe turned around, followed through and kicked Foden directly in the ankle. Enter Savić, who believed Foden was faking the injury, despite his buddy Felipe delivering a kick Eddy Gordo from the Tekken franchise would’ve been proud of. Savić tried to drag a hurt Foden off the turf by the collar of his jersey, before Ukrainian City reserve Oleksandr Zinchenko separated them. Of course, Savić’s lack of morality couldn’t stand, with several City players getting in his face within seconds, creating the “mass confrontation” bullshit FIFA wants to avoid but secretly loves.
Heated European football arguments rarely turn to actual punches and Wednesday’s dust-up is about as close as one can get without teeing off on one another. How Savić wasn’t sent off with VAR technology is beyond comprehension. He only headbutted Raheem Sterling and grabbed Jack Grealish’s hair in addition to unnecessarily putting his hands on Foden. That’s three red-card offenses in less than 60 seconds and Savić escaped with just a yellow somehow. Fans online have claimed the Grealish hair pull was after the English attacker shoved Savić and called him the most unsavory of words.
I know it’s an important game. The original tackle-turned-leg strike from Felipe, representing his second yellow card and an ejection, shouldn’t have kept Savić on the field. Madrid deserved to be down two men for stoppage time. Atlético have developed a reputation under Diego Simeone in big matches for bringing the physicality and messing with teams mentally by pushing them around. Within the laws of the game, it’s a fantastic strategy. Nearly assaulting multiple opponents is fair from being rough. It’s outright despicable.
City and Madrid were lucky to have drawn each other in the quarterfinals. The team with the best performance in this week’s round of Champions League games, Chelsea, was unluckily knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City’s semifinal opponent and Atlético’s neighbor, Real Madrid. The Blues and Los Blancos put on an all-time classic two-legged tie. City and Atlético put on an all-time stinker. Man City’s defense allowing zero goals over 180 minutes to Atlético is something to celebrate, but that was more the Spaniards playing well below par instead of John Stones and friends making them stay away from Ederson.
Somehow after Savić and Felipe’s horror show, Madrid only needed one goal to force extra time while down to 10 men. It had a few golden opportunities to tie the match but never found the equalizer. After the final whistle, the shouting and shoving continued into the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium hallways, as the teams exited the field through the same tunnel. Imagine how many more fights we’d see in American sports if locker rooms weren’t placed at opposite ends of the stadium? During those events, Croatian international Sime Vrsaljko threw a pair of goalkeeper gloves at Man City staff members moments before appearing to spit at Kyle Walker.
No further disciplinary action has been taken by UEFA since the confrontations. If anything is dealt to Savić, it’ll carry over to next year’s group stage, as Atlético are now out of the competition. Savić not receiving a fine or suspension only gives permission for him and other agitated players to do the same down the road. We don’t need a game where everyone sings Kumbaya after every whistle. We also need less of the ugly scenes from Madrid and asshats like Savić taking liberties into his own hands.