Reports of a move away from the Spanish club continue to swirl around the Ghana international, but replacing him will be no easy task for Simeone
While the continuing future of Thomas Partey remains uncertain, the relentless mill of transfer speculation has already begun to turn up potential replacements for the influential midfielder.
Per recent reports, the Ghana international includes a contract offer from Atletico Madrid to increase his remain in the Spanish capital. However, links to North London club Arsenal persist, without doubt sparked by way of a statement related to his father in April but now fuelled by the player’s own reticence toward signing the extension.
Partey’s importance within Diego Simeone’s system has continued to grow during the last two seasons. Following the departure of long-serving captain Gabi in 2018, the 27-year-old has assumed not only the position at the base of the Atletico midfield, but in addition a de facto leadership role within the team.
It is a degree of responsibility he’s risen to and relished: that he leads the team in successful dribbles per game (1.8), is third for interceptions (1.4 pg) and second for completed passes (41.0 pg) .
More essential than the volume, however, may be the types of passes.
Per FBref, of players who have made at least 15 starts, Partey leads Atletico for passes played into the final third (6.92 per 90), touches (70.7 per 90) and is second simply to Kieran Trippier for progressive passes (7.44 per 90).
For a side that’s built first of all to be solid defensively, he is definitely crucial to the construction of these attacking play.
Big boots to fill then if, as is widely expected, that he leaves the Metropolitano.
Two names that have been strongly linked as replacements are Real Mallorca midfielder Iddrisu Baba and Villarreal’s Andre Zambo Anguissa, who is on loan from English side Fulham. While their styles are significantly contrasting, they both have certain merits that make them interesting considerations for Atletico.
There are, of course, a couple of obvious similarities between Baba and Partey.
Both are Ghana internationals and, like his older compatriot did six years ago, the 24-year-old Baba is receiving a footballing education at RCD Mallorca.
That just isn’t all he’s going for him, however.
Even within the more humble stylings of Mallorca’s game, Baba asserts similar influence on the passing game. He is second in the club for passes into the final third (3.02 per 90) and second for touches (50.4 per 90).
While of players at the club who have at least 15 starts, Baba ranks fourth for progressive passes per 90, that he does not carry the responsibility with regards to starting attacks that Partey does. That brief falls to the experienced Salva Sevilla; Baba is tasked with winning the ball, keeping it simple and establishing possession in the centre of the pitch.
Capped by Ghana for the very first time last November, he could realistically play as a foil for a player like Partey, allowing his more attacking instincts to flourish. The self-effacing nature of his game is the one that has reportedly attracted attention in the past from Real Madrid, interest which forced Mallorca to offer the player two contract extensions in 20 days in July 2019.
There will no doubt be concerns regarding whether he is able to offer the same incision that Partey does. However, it really is worth noting that Partey himself wasn’t a like-for-like replacement for Gabi, so a small difference in profile will not need to be a deal-breaker.
Andre Zambo Anguissa
The Cameroon international endured a torrid amount of time in the Premier League with a hapless Fulham side in 2018/19, but is rebuilding his reputation at Villarreal.
His strong performances for the Yellow Submarine have observed him earmarked as a possible replacement Partey at Atletico.
An imposing figure in midfield, Anguissa excels at carrying the ball forward. He leads Villarreal as a whole dribbles (69) this season, an extraordinary statistic considering he plays alongside Santi Cazorla, and is fourth for progressive carries.
However, his actual work in possession is good too. He has the 2nd-highest passing accuracy in the team, and of players who have made at least 15 starts, he’s second for passing the ball into the final third.
Physically more imposing than Baba, he is however less active defensively inside his or her own defensive third. Typically, Anguissa, perhaps by virtue of Villarreal’s high defensive line, plays higher up the pitch, using his engine to disrupt and split up play.
Vicente Iborra plays the more disciplined defensive role along with him in midfield, therefore he has license to storm forward and apply pressure to opponents.
While it would be an excellent ask for him to acquire the discipline had a need to provide a solid base for the team to function, it really is effectively exactly the same route to first team prominence that Partey took, morphing from a lively box-to-box player to an even more metronomic presence.
The sheer big difference in playing style involving the mooted replacements tells an account in itself, and is a compliment to how aptly Partey has embodied the role at Atletico.
Certainly, the club’s preference is always to retain his services.
However, if Arsenal (or indeed anybody else) activate his release clause, either of the aforementioned would alllow for interesting replacements, but for quite different reasons: whereas Baba will have to show more, Anguissa arguably would need to strip straight back.