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Sports News of Wednesday, 24 June 2020


Can Baba or Anguissa fill Partey's big boots at Atletico Madrid?

Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey

While the 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 has a contract offer from Atletico Madrid to extend his stay in the Spanish capital. However, links to North London club Arsenal persist, no doubt sparked by a statement attributed 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 over the last two seasons. Following the departure of long-serving captain Gabi in 2018, the 27-year-old has assumed not just the position at the base of the Atletico midfield, but also a de facto leadership role within the team.

It is a level of responsibility he has risen to and relished: 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 important than the volume, however, is 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 only to Kieran Trippier for progressive passes (7.44 per 90).

For a side that is built first and foremost to be solid defensively, he is absolutely crucial to the construction of their attacking play.

Big boots to fill then if, as is widely expected, 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 somewhat contrasting, they both have certain merits that make them interesting considerations for Atletico.

There are, of course, a few 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 is not all he has going for him, however.

Even within the more humble stylings of Mallorca's game, Baba asserts similar influence on their 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, he does not carry the responsibility in terms of 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 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 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 as to whether he can offer the same incision that Partey does. However, it is worth noting that Partey himself was not a like-for-like replacement for Gabi, so a slight difference in profile need not be a deal-breaker.

The Cameroon international endured a torrid 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 seen him earmarked as a possible replacement for Partey at Atletico.

An imposing figure in midfield, Anguissa excels at carrying the ball forward. He leads Villarreal in total dribbles (69) this season, a remarkable 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 second-highest passing accuracy in the team, and of players who have made at least 15 starts, he is second for passing the ball into the final third.

Physically more imposing than Baba, he is however less active defensively inside his 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 break up play.

Vicente Iborra plays the more disciplined defensive role alongside him in midfield, and so he has license to storm forward and apply pressure to opponents.

While it would be a great ask for him to acquire the discipline needed to provide a solid base for the team to function, it is effectively the same route to first team prominence that Partey took, morphing from an energetic box-to-box player to a more metronomic presence.

The sheer difference in playing style between the mooted replacements tells a story in itself, and is a compliment to how aptly Partey has embodied the role at Atletico.

Certainly, the club's preference would be to retain his services.

However, if Arsenal (or indeed anyone else) activate his release clause, either of the above would make for interesting replacements, but for quite different reasons: whereas Baba would need to show more, Anguissa arguably would need to strip back.