Thomas Partey: Atletico Madrid's key cog
Background image: Roberto, CC BY-SA 4.0
Atletico Madrid began this season poorly. Only six Liga clubs register fewer than their 16 goals after as many matches. They're sixth in the table following last week's 0-1 defeat to Barcelona and the subsequent goalless draw with Villarreal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this weekend. In part, Diego Simeone is struggling to make all the new pieces fit into his lineup. Joao Felix and Alvaro Morata lead the Rojiblancos attack. Their seven goals combined is not satisfactory for the club's stature.
Matters would be far worse if the defence didn't remain impenetrable, conceding only 10 goals, but there is far less margin for error. Last term, Atleti were 12 goals to the good at this stage, having scored two dozen. Rodri was the best d-mid in Spain. Many critics considered it naive to ship him off to Manchester City for £63 million. Thomas Partey's growing brilliance makes it appear a stroke of genius.
Given more minutes in Rodri's absence, the Ghanaian's integrity grows with each passing match. A pure wrecker with supreme ferocity, Partey partners with Saul in a double pivot. Atletico play a 4-4-2 where full-backs push high and wingers cut inside. There is a reason why he works so well in a system where Los Colchoneros often cede the majority of possession. He presses relentlessly, runs to make himself available, then uses neat footwork and a deft first touch to release a quick pass. He has an elite mentality and reads the game perfectly. His control and positioning often go unnoticed.
Against Real Madrid, the 26-year-old didn’t put a foot wrong, marauding all over the pitch, commanding his teammates, covering every blade of grass. His job was to break the lines against the dynamic midfield of Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Casemiro. Adept with his positioning, he prevented the Merengues from carving out too many chances in front of goal and deservedly received Man of the Match honours.
When full-backs Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi push high, Partey covers well for them, freeing Saul to go forward. He also ensures they get the ball when they make those overlapping runs to the byline. El Cholo expects a lot of defensive duties from his charges. His new d-mid always delivers.
Los Colchoneros play a style in which he and Saul tend to overload one side in the buildup. Partey's long diagonals to the full-back in open space on the opposite flank are well-weighted and accurate. He then makes the long far-post run, anticipating the cross. Completing around four long balls per 90, the Ghanaian midfielder unlocks defences with penetrative long balls to break the press. The meat of Atleti's chances derive from the tactic. Consequently, he's pitched in with two goals and an assist from his deep-lying position in La Liga and the Champions League this season.
In addition to his technical abilities, he possesses the swagger that endears him to Atleti's working-class fanbase. He can let his emotions get the better of him with the odd ill-timed tackle or aggressive tackle. It's cost him six yellow cards in La Liga this season. It's a fair price to pay for the rate at which he shuts down opposing counterattacks and recycles possession.
Partey's release clause is around £45 million. His father has admitted that he wants to play in England someday. Manchester United and Arsenal already keep tabs. He'd fit into both starting XIs instantly. On the other hand, he bought equity in fourth-division Spanish side Alcobendas Sport in the summer, indicating he might like to stay in Spain.
Yet to recover from the loss of key players such as Antoine Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez, Thomas Partey's seamless insertion into the defensive midfield makes him a cornerstone in Diego Simeone's next-gen Atletico Madrid side.