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Thomas Partey might be Atlético Madrid’s holding midfielder of the future

Diego Simeone’s Atlético will soon enter a transition as older players like Gabi move on. But Simeone may not have to look far for the captain’s replacement.

Club Atletico de Madrid v CA Osasuna - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

For most everyone associated with Atlético Madrid, this summer’s registration ban has been seen as a pretty big negative. One of the exceptions to this is Thomas Partey, who now will likely have the chance to secure a starting position in Atlético’s first team due to the retirement of Tiago, and the near-certainty that replacements won’t come in until January 2018 at the earliest. Augusto Fernández will also be back in contention after his season-long battle with injury last year, but as he now sits on the wrong side of 30, Thomas has a higher ceiling, and at the very least a low floor.

Thomas has been a bit-part player in the last two seasons in Atlético’s first team. He made 15 substitute appearances last season and just seven starts in LaLiga and the Champions League. Some of these rare starts came at the very unfamiliar position of right-back, where he deputized for a broken Šime Vrsaljko and an out of form/injured Juanfran.

What Thomas has as a base is a fantastic physical frame, as well as athletic ability. He stands 6’1’’ and weighs in at 165 pounds, and more than, he possesses a bit more technical quality than perhaps he is given credit for - though to fully fulfill the midfield pivot role at Atleti, he could use some development in that area. But when supported by excellent technical players like Koke and Saúl, Thomas can truly flourish without compromising on his strengths.

The 4-4-2 has been the mainstay formation of the Diego Simeone Era, but the current squad composition - particularly in midfield - has led some to argue that a change in base formation is needed. Saúl and Koke have at times struggled to play together in a central midfield two, but have shown success with a more defensively focused midfielder around them in a three. And with Vitolo arriving in January, this would mean Atlético will have quality wide right so that Koke is no longer shoehorned out there.

The perfect player for this system is currently Gabi, but he too is nearing the end of his career, and Thomas could fill that role once he leaves or retires. In a Simeone side, Thomas will most definitely be committed defensively, and if his ball circulation can improve, he could fulfill that role very well. The 24-year-old averaged about half of the interceptions and clearances per match that the 34-year-old Gabi did, but can possibly approach the captain’s level with the appropriate amount of game time and experience in a more central role.

What still stands to be seen is whether or not Thomas can convince Simeone that he is the man for the job long-term, in a position which Simeone once dominated as a player. Thomas seemingly impressed the boss by performing well in a position totally unfamiliar to him, and Cholo has started to place more emphasis on individual versatility.

However, should Thomas not work out as the central midfielder a lot of Atlético fans hope, then the club will definitely need to reinforce that position. Atlético have been linked to several players of that position recently, like Fabinho, Kevin Kampl and Grzegorz Krychowiak, all of whom could perform well in that role. Whether it is these players or the in-house solution of Thomas, Atleti will need someone to fulfill that role soon.

But it looks like Simeone is going to give Thomas every chance to step up and become a midfield stalwart. He has inherited Tiago’s number five shirt and the Ghanaian international will have big shoes to fill with the Portuguese now coaching at Atlético. Although squad numbers can somewhat trivial, it does show that Cholo is willing to trust in Partey Time, and it now just remains to be seen whether he repays this boss early in 2017/18.