Finding Atletico Madrid a replacement for Thomas Partey in Spain – data analysis
On the last day of the summer transfer market, Atlético Madrid lost Thomas Partey when Arsenal paid his €50 million release clause. For teams in most countries, this would be a major blow as they would be left with no time to replace one of their star players, but luckily for Atlético, rules in La Liga are different. If a player leaves because a club paid his release clause, Spanish clubs have the chance to sign a player in the next 30 days even if the transfer window is closed. But it has to be a player who’s registered in a Spanish club, leaving fewer possibilities for clubs to act.
27-year-old Partey was a pivotal part of Atlético’s tactics – he played the first three games of La Liga despite being surrounded by transfer rumours – and will surely be an instant hit in the Premier League. The right-footed central midfielder, apart from being a physical monster able to cover a lot of pitch and win the ball back, was key in Atlético’s ball progression. The Ghanian international has a fantastic passing range, can progress with powerful runs but also has the ability to escape pressure in tight spaces. He’s not a goal threat, but still takes lots of shots from distance and helps his team finish the attacks.
As we can see in Partey’s profile, he’s below the median central midfielder in La Liga in only three of the 22 statistics we considered. As we have said, he excels at winning duels both on the ground and in the air, he makes lots of forward passes with excellent accuracy and can get the ball into the penalty box or shoot from distance. In short, Partey does lots of things and all of them well.
Simeone has some alternatives in the squad who could fulfil Partey’s role. In fact, Héctor Herrera and Koke emerged as similar players in our analysis. However, Atlético still need to cover the position and strengthen their midfield with a player capable of defending and progressing from the back.
In this data analysis, we will use Total Football Analysis’ xGold to find players playing in Spain who could replace Thomas Partey at Atlético Madrid. Of course, finding a player as well-rounded and complete will be a difficult task but statistics and data can lead us in the right direction. We have divided the options into three different groups: ideal options, bargains and young players with potential.
William Carvalho – Real Betis – Market value: €20m – Release clause: €120m
The closest match, once we eliminate the unrealistic ones, is Real Betis’ midfielder, William Carvalho. The 28-year-old Portuguese international hasn’t shown his full potential since he arrived in La Liga in 2018, especially because of injuries and being played in too defensive positions. But if Atlético could provide him with the appropriate context he could become a good replacement for Partey. Valued at €20 million, Carvalho would be an expensive option, but with Betis in a tight financial situation, his price should be much closer to his market value than to his €120-million release clause.
Having played 34 European matches in his career and with 62 caps for Portugal, Carvalho is used to playing at the highest level and should adapt well to Atlético’s expectations. He also knows the league and players coming from Portugal have usually performed well for Simeone’s team.
Carvalho is physically similar to Partey, standing just two centimetres taller at 1.87m and with a similarly strong but athletic build. He’s also right-footed. He’s been played as the only defensive midfielder in many matches, but Carvalho really excels when he has the freedom to go forward and use his power to break lines and play closer to the goal. His passing is also excellent, he can break lines with aggressive passes and get the ball into the penalty area, but he may have some problems to turn or receive between the lines.
He can also use his physical conditions to recover the ball and is important in transitions, but his defensive side isn’t as good as Partey’s. Carvalho is also a very accurate passer and even if he tends to play horizontally, he’s very involved in the game and manages to progress the ball lots of times.When we look at these graphs going forward, which will compare Partey to the shortlisted players in different aspects of the game, we will see each player measured against the median of their respective league’s central midfielders. So in this case, both Partey and Carvalho will be measured against other La Liga central midfielders (as these graphs will show last season’s statistics).
We can see Partey and Carvalho have similar passing profiles, with the former being a more balanced option and the latter excelling in some metrics while not being too good in others. Partey is a more aggressive passer, trying longer passes than Carvalho and aiming to pass the ball forward and to the final third more often. However, Carvalho’s accuracy is better in all aspects. These differences are probably due to their teams playing style. Real Betis play possession-based football, meaning Carvalho gets the ball more often and isn’t asked to pass it forward quickly all the time, while Partey tries to advance quickly to implement Simeone’s direct counter-attacking tactics.
When it comes to the more attacking phase, both midfielders behave very similarly. Both are placed above the median central midfielder in deep completions, through passes and passes to the penalty area, meaning they have the ability to play directly and advance quickly with their passes. They are almost in the same percentile (just below the median) when it comes to expected assists as they do create some chances but it’s not their main strength. Regarding their shooting skills, they are quite different. Partey tends to shoot lots of times but from very difficult positions, while Carvalho shoots and gets into the box fewer times than the Ghanian but does it more efficiently, ranking better in terms of expected goals. Lastly, it’s in the defensive aspect where they differ the most. Partey is better than Carvalho in virtually every metric considered. The new Arsenal player got involved in more defensive actions and won a higher percentage of them than Carvalho. Players tend to improve defensively with Simeone, and Carvalho would need to develop a lot his defensive game to make Atlético Madrid forget Partey.
Carvalho would be a good option to replace Partey, especially in his on-the-ball duties. If Atlético chose to sign him, Simeone would need to reshift his midfielder’s defensive responsibilities as Carvalho can’t cope with all the defensive work Partey did.
Joan Jordán – Sevilla – Market value: €20m – Release clause: €60m
The second closest match between high-profile La Liga players is Sevilla’s Joan Jordán. The 26-year-old Spanish midfielder is a regular starter for the Andalusian team and one of their best players since his arrival in 2019 for €14 million. After more than 120 La Liga appearances and a long experience both in Segunda División and Segunda División B, Jordán is starting to make his name in Europe too and has 14 European competitions appearances so far, winning last season’s Europa League. He would probably be a more expensive option than Carvalho as he’s well-established in Sevilla, but if Atlético can get close to his €60 million release clause they would get a midfielder capable of adapting immediately to their tactics and also a year younger than Partey.
Jordán is physically similar to Partey, standing at the same height (1.85m) and with the strength and coordination to cover a lot of ground and winning duels. Similarly to Partey, he only ranks below the median in four of the statistics we considered so he’s a very complete option too. Jordán excels in the attacking part, with a fantastic vision to assist and get the ball into dangerous positions and also getting lots of shots and touches in the penalty area. Because of being highly involved in the attacks of his team, Jordán tends to pass the ball laterally, but that doesn’t mean he can’t pass forward and he still does that lots of time and with excellent accuracy. He also works hard in defence and gets involved in many ground duels.
As we can see in the graph below, Partey and Jordán are almost equal in their passing. Again, the different tactics used by both teams mean Jordán doesn’t pass the ball forward as often as Partey, but when he does he’s more accurate. With Partey looking to get the ball to the opposite box as soon as possible, his passing length and passes to the final third are higher than Jordán’s.
In more advanced positions it’s Jordán who’s clearly better. He’s well above Partey in expected assists and touches in the box, meaning he’s an offensive threat by himself. The only metric where Partey behaves better is in through passes, but both of them are still above the median.
Finally, in the defensive phase, it’s Partey who comes out as the winner. We can see Jordán works hard as he’s involved in more defensive duels, but he’s nowhere near Partey in terms of winning them. He’s not bad anyway in any of these metrics and after some adaptation, he could be useful for Atlético in the defensive phase too.
Jordán would be a fantastic signing for Atlético. He’s more offensive than Partey but can still recover the ball and progress through midfield. He’s also an adaptable player as he proved when moving from Eibar to Sevilla and would surely fit well into Atlético Madrid’s tactics.
Rubén Alcaraz – Real Valladolid – Market value: €8m – Release clause: €25m
A surprising signing would be Real Valladolid’s Rubén Alcaraz. The 29-year-old Spanish player is in his only third season in La Liga after a long career in the second and third divisions of Spanish football, but has adapted very well to a higher level and is an important player in his team tactics. Even if his release clause is €25 million, Valladolid only sold a player for more than €10 million once in their history, and a similar amount would be reasonable to take Alcaraz to Atlético Madrid.
Formerly an attacking midfielder, Alcaraz has become an excellent defender, excelling in most defensive metrics. His size is similar to Partey’s (1.83m) and has excellent work-rate and stamina, allowing him to cover ground both in attack and defence. When it comes to his passing, Alcaraz uses his great delivery to make lots of long passes and launch counterattacks from deep positions. He’s just ok when he has to progress the ball and often looks to play forward quickly. In the final third, he’s a threat from distance and often tries to shoot from outside the box.
When compared to Partey, Alcaraz is clearly a less skilled passer but with a similar profile. He doesn’t get as involved as Partey and his accuracy is generally lower. However, both of them try to play forward very often, and Alcaraz average pass length is much higher because of his long passes. Even if he doesn’t have Partey’s quality, Alcaraz would fit into Atlético’s tactics and plays in his role quite comfortably.
When it comes to making an impact further up the pitch, Partey is again a much better and complete player than Alcaraz. The Ghanian midfielder has the vision and quality to get the ball into dangerous positions and create threatening plays. Alcaraz could make an impact through his shots as he takes more than Partey and is more likely to score. In fact, the Spaniard has scored a goal every 500 minutes in his career, while Partey has done it every 693 minutes.
When trying to recover the ball, Alcaraz is an absolute monster. He gets involved in more duels than Partey and wins a higher proportion of them. His positioning is also great and he intercepts lots of passes. Probably thanks to his height, Partey is better in the air. Even if Partey is an excellent defensive player, Alcaraz is really outstanding and would surely cope well with Atlético Madrid’s defensive exigence.
Alcaraz would be a smart and surprising signing to replace Partey, probably one to win some time until a better market opportunity presents. He’s good in the basic responsibilities Partey had (being direct with the ball and defending) and decent in other areas, so he would be a trustable player even if not a superstar.
Eugeni Valderrama – Huesca – Market value: €1m – Release clause: €4m
An even more surprising call is Huesca’s Eugeni Valderrama. The 26-year-old Spanish midfielder has progressed slowly in his career and this will be his first season in La Liga after collecting more than 100 appearances both in Segunda División and Segunda División B. He has also transitioned from being an attacking midfielder to a deeper playmaker role, fitting in the defensive/central midfielder category at the moment.
Last season he got promoted with Huesca and was an important part of their attacks. Valderrama is excellent on the ball, especially in the more attacking phase. A real threat around the box, Valderrama was between the best central midfielders in the Spanish second division in terms of expected assists, shots, passes to the box, deep completions and other creative statistics. However, he’s not very good on the defensive side, not getting very involved in defensive actions and not winning a lot of them compared to other midfielders.
When comparing with Partey, we must keep in mind Valderrama’s data is from last season in the second division. Anyway, we can still see they are similar in terms of passing, tending to pass the ball forward and with great accuracy. Valderrama usually played shorter passes, probably because of his team’s possession-based tactics, but still had great accuracy in his more direct passes, so should adapt well to any style.
When approaching the final third, Valderrama is a much more dangerous player than Partey. The Huesca midfielder was above the median in most of the metrics considered and stands out in expected assists. The impact of playing in a higher division should lower these numbers, but he’s still a very offensive central midfielder and could give Atlético Madrid more in the final third than Partey.
Lastly, it’s in the defensive phase where both midfielders are the most different. Even if compared to players in a lower division, Valderrama was still worse than Partey in all defensive metrics, and he was above the median in aerial duels winning percentage. With this in mind, Atlético Madrid would need to put Valderrama in a different role than Partey’s as he wouldn’t be able to defend as much.
Valderrama would be a very cheap option and could be interesting for Atlético as he’s more a threat going forward than Partey. However, they would need to find a solution for the defensive hole left by the Ghanian, probably using another player like Koke or Herrera in that position and giving Valderrama the freedom he needs to create in the opposition half.
For the future
Vicente Esquerdo – Valencia – Market value: €0.3m – Release clause: €100m
If we look at high-potential players who could replace Partey in the longer term, Vicente Esquerdo is the first match we get. The 21-year-old Spanish midfielder is starting to appear for Valencia’s first team after spending all his career in the club’s youth setup. Last season, Esquerdo played for Valencia’s B team in the Spanish third division and he was one of the best players at that level.
Esquerdo is not as physical as Partey, with his height being just 1.80m, but still manages to cover a fair amount of ground and is excellent in defensive duels, ranking above almost every central midfielder in Segunda B last season in terms of defensive duels winning percentage. Indeed, he wasn’t very involved in the defensive phase, maybe because of his team playing more attacking football, but his ability to get the ball back could be used effectively by Simeone.
Esquerdo clearly stands out on the ball, being among the best in terms of getting the ball into the final third and the penalty box, assisting and also distributing accurately. His passing range is also fantastic and he tends to play long passes with great completion rate. His ability and directness would be excellent for a team like Atlético who likes to attack quickly.
Even if playing two divisions below Partey, when we compare them we see how good Esquerdo is at distributing and taking the ball forward. He’s very similar to Partey in terms of accuracy and involvement, and even if he plays more lateral passes, his forward passes tend to be longer and reach the final third very often and missing few of them. If he can translate this into La Liga, Atlético would get someone capable of emulating Partey’s directness and passing range.
In the attacking third, again Esquerdo has a similar profile to Partey but stands out much more between his league’s central midfielders. His ability to get the ball into the final third and into the box is fantastic and results in very high expected assists. However, he’s not as good at shooting as Partey and he prefers to create for his teammates rather than finishing the plays himself. The step to La Liga is huge, but the potential to be a threatening creative player is clearly there.
Once again, when we come to defending is where Partey is very difficult to match. Promisingly, Esquerdo wins lots of defensive duels, si even if he isn’t good enough in the rest of statistics, he seems to be adaptable to a more defensive role if Simeone can get the work rate he needs from him.
Esquerdo would be an interesting addition to Atlético’s squad. He’s young, has proved he’s excellent on the ball and shows promising signs of being adaptable to a more defensive role. The tactics Atlético Madrid use are very demanding and it could take time for him to get used to defending much more than with Valencia B, but if he stepped up to that challenge he would become a very well-rounded and complete midfielder.
Pol Lozano – Espanyol – Market value: €1.3m – Release clause: €40m
Our last option to replace Partey is Espanyol’s Pol Lozano. He’s 21 years old and is starting to get into the first team, with 19 appearances (772 minutes) so far since his debut last season. Lozano has come through the ranks at Espanyol and has featured for various Spanish Youth National Teams up to the Under-21s.
Lozano is a small (1.76m) but intense central midfielder capable of covering a lot of ground and distributing efficiently. He’s very good in ground duels, both in quantity and quality, which makes up for a very bad aerial ability. On the ball, Lozano is very involved and rarely loses the ball. Even if his passes aren’t very direct, he still reaches the final third often and even the penalty box sometimes. He could still improve as an attacking threat but he’s no way an only defensive player.
Like we did with Esquerdo, we are taking Lozano’s statistics playing for Espanyol B last season in the third division. Partey and Lozano are very different passers, even if both of them are effective and have quality. Lozano tends to make much shorter and safer passes than Partey, looking to receive the ball back and move the ball quickly from side to side. He does reach the final third a fair amount of times, but he’s nowhere as direct as Partey and would need to change his playing style to fit into Atlético Madrid’s tactics.
On the more attacking side, Lozano isn’t as near as good as Partey. Because of his more possession-oriented style, Lozano doesn’t get the ball into dangerous positions that often and very rarely shoots himself. On the positive side, his profile is similar to Partey’s but needs to improve to be as good as him.
Finally, on the defensive side, Lozano is similar to Partey except for the aerial duels, in which the height difference is crucial. Lozano gets into lots of duels and wins most of them so he could match Partey in that aspect. He doesn’t intercept the ball as much as the Ghanian but clearly has the work rate and defensive ability to succeed at Atlético Madrid.
Lozano would be a gamble for Atlético Madrid. He clearly has the defensive ability and commitment necessary to be an Atlético player, but still seems raw in lots of aspects and his passing profile doesn’t match what Partey offered. He’s very young and has the time and ability to adapt, so Simeone could shape him as he likes.
Finding the exact replacement for Thomas Partey looking only at Spain-based players has proved to be a very difficult task. A central midfielder is rarely as well-rounded as the new Arsenal man and Atlético Madrid will surely need to choose which part of the Ghanian’s game they want to replace when signing a replacement.
There are still some interesting options in every category as we have seen in this data analysis, and if Simeone has identified the kind of players he wants, then Atlético could provide him with interesting options to keep fighting for the UEFA Champions League glory this season.