Sávio has been one of the revelations of the season in La Liga for surprise title challengers Girona. A move to the Premier League is now on the cards in a transfer that should excite Manchester City fans.
Sávio may not have arrived in Spain to any great fanfare – after all, he’d just come off a loan spell at PSV, where he managed only eight appearances across all competitions – but Girona coach Michel had a good feeling about the 19-year-old.
After the Brazilian’s hugely promising first six weeks or so in La Liga, which coincided with Girona’s best start ever to a top-flight campaign, Míchel made a radio appearance on El Larguero and provided a little more context to the arrival of their man of the moment.
“The sporting management had been following Savinho since the last Under-20 World Cup,” he said. “We had an excellent image [of him], despite him having just come back from a season without enchanting at PSV; we had the feeling he could be the right player for us. I’ll say one big thing: since Vinícius Júnior’s arrival in Spain, I haven’t seen such a great one-on-one talent like Sávio.”
For a country blessed with such technical talent, that was high praise indeed, and Sávio has continued to excel for a Girona side that is still pushing hard at the top of the table, long after many expected their early promise to fizzle.
But of course, as occurs with virtually any team that comes out of the blue to threaten the status quo, Girona are likely to be picked apart by the vultures of European football. It’s seemingly already begun with Sávio, who has reportedly agreed a move to Manchester City for next season.
Now to address the elephant in the room; yes, Sávio moving to City won’t be even remotely surprising if it happens. In fact, it was probably the plan all along considering he joined City Football Group club Girona on loan from City Football Group club Troyes, who could somehow afford to buy Sávio in the first place in a deal apparently worth up to €12.5 million before loaning him out less than three weeks later.
However, the questionable morality of this kind of club ownership model is a discussion for another time; Sávio’s hardly the one to blame here, rather he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity given to him at Girona and thrived, immediately becoming a key player and establishing himself as one of the most promising footballers in Spain.
Whether he’ll end up staying with City next season or being loaned out remains to be seen, but Sávio’s impact in La Liga this term suggests he’s already capable of being a useful asset to Pep Guardiola in 2024-25 and beyond.
A graceful, brave and exciting winger, Sávio shows the kind of adaptability that could really give him an edge over other wide players as he looks to carve out a career for himself at the very top. During his formative years, he was frequently used on the right in the mould of a modern inverted winger, cutting inside on to his stronger left foot. But at Girona, he’s switched flanks and it’s arguably brought out the very best in him.
While he undoubtedly has the skillset to play on the right and come inside, Sávio’s one-on-one ability and tremendous crossing technique have made him such a potent weapon on the left and something of a throwback, terrorising many defences and goalkeepers with the chipped technique he favours for many of his deliveries into the danger zone. His style resembles more old-fashioned wingers as he’s tallied 15 open-play crosses following a one-on-one duel, four more than any other player in La Liga this season. Those were among his total of 79 open-play crosses, which is the seventh most in the division.
Such a crossing frequency shouldn’t be misconstrued as him being one-dimensional or lacking subtlety, however. Sávio has brought real creative threat to Girona this season; not only is his 28 chances created in open play bettered by only nine players, but those have also led to a league-high seven open-play assists.
What makes that even more impressive is the fact it matches up almost perfectly with his 7.02 open-play expected assists (xA), a model that rewards players who pass into dangerous areas and measures the likelihood of a pass becoming a goal assist. Sávio is well clear of his nearest rival, Ilkay Gündogan (5.16), in that metric, highlighting the danger he brings with his use of the ball.
The main beneficiary to Sávio’s effective wing play is Girona’s first-choice centre-forward Artem Dovbyk, a very promising player in his own right. The Ukraine international is enjoying a phenomenal first season in La Liga after being signed from Dnipro-1 in the summer, with his 14 goals bettered by no one else.
Sávio has laid on eight opportunities to Dovbyk in La Liga this term, with only four other wingers, wide midfielders and full-backs providing more chances to a given striker, and none of those have gone beyond nine. Among the same group of players, Sávio’s 2.25 xA for Dovbyk is comfortably the highest and they’ve linked up for a couple of goals.
It’s always helpful when your wide players form a good understanding with the main striker, and this relationship with Dovbyk could be seen as a promising sign for City fans; obviously no two players are exactly alike, but there are undoubtedly similarities in style between Dovbyk and Erling Haaland, with the Ukrainian’s statistical output this term rated as being more comparable to Haaland’s past four campaigns by the Opta Radar below.
But again, this relationship with the big man up top needn’t be perceived as some kind of cheap, dirty video game tactic. There are plenty of examples that highlight Sávio’s subtlety; he’s not simply a head-down-and-run type winger. He plays with deliberation, purpose, and with his head up.
There were two particularly notable examples in Girona’s 4-2 December win away to Barcelona. The first saw him take up possession just inside the left side of the hosts’ box and shape for a first-time cross, but his feint allowed space to open up in a central position for left-back Miguel Gutiérrez, who took a touch and shot agonisingly wide of the bottom-right corner.
Then, a little later in the second half, Sávio appeared to size up Jules Koundé and Frenkie de Jong, but instead of dropping the shoulder he got his head up and played an inch-perfect cross right between them into the path of Viktor Tsygankov, who prodded wide from about seven yards out.
Another key feature of his game is darting runs onto through balls in behind the full-back. Such a move tore Sevilla open in the recent battering of Quique Sánchez Flores’ side, with Sávio luring Tanguy Nianzou out wide before bursting away from him in an instant to collect a pass and tee up Tsygankov for an easy finish.
There were similar instances against Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, the latter example coming from the right flank, both of which were let down by poor finishes from Dovbyk. This is also evidence of the positivity and drive he can bring in attack, with only six players (minimum 900 minutes played, excluding centre-backs) making more than his 10.7 progressive carries per 90 minutes.
These progressive runs aren’t just limited to the very limits of the pitch, though. Sávio has a regular tendency to pick the ball in deep areas out wide and carry it diagonally infield towards the edge of the box, a feature you’d not tend to associate with wingers of the more throwback variety. It’s effective, though, as his chance-creating carries map highlights, and provides a glimpse of the adaptability mentioned earlier.
He boasts the speed and ability on the ball to exploit spaces and destabilise defences if given opportunities to run at them, with the graphic below showing his run and pass before Tsygankov’s lovely goal against Granada in September.
The trade-off for him being such a reliable creative force on the left is that he doesn’t get many shots away himself. Registering 1.2 attempts on average per 90 minutes this season, Sávio is one of the least productive forwards in La Liga this term with respect to being the one trying to finish chances – that being said, he’s still managed to score five times, which is a solid return.
A lack of shots may simply be an understandable consequence of being a predominantly left-footed player playing on the left wing, and it’s unclear if that’s where he’d be utilised should the move to City come to fruition. Given his impact at Girona, you’d have to say it would make sense, but Guardiola doesn’t really use wingers in that way, and he’s already got Jack Grealish and Jérémy Doku competing for one position on the left.
Perhaps Sávio will be the belated replacement for Riyad Mahrez and, to a lesser extent, Cole Palmer? Stranger things have happened, though it’s difficult to escape the feeling his threat might be dampened somewhat.
Either way, City look to have acquired another fine and exciting young talent for their arsenal, and if any coach can shape Sávio into a world-class player, Guardiola’s the one.
It’s fair to say his next move is going to generate a little more buzz than his last.