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Thomas Lemar will bring creativity to Atlético Madrid

Atlético Madrid are set to add some je ne sais quoi to their squad.

France Training Session - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Thomas Lemar was a part of the 2016/17 AS Monaco squad that rolled to a Champions League semifinal and dethroned Paris Saint-Germain to win a first Ligue 1 title for 17 years. After that magical season, the club saw an exodus of young talent but Lemar was left waiting for his move to a bigger club. A year later and now he’s got it: the 22-year-old is set for a move to Atlético Madrid for a reported fee of €60 million. He signed a contract on Monday, and the transfer will be completed after a medical and official confirmation from Monaco.

With Lemar’s pending arrival, Atlético are adding a central-attacking midfielder who can create scoring opportunities. Sure Antoine Griezmann led the squad last season with 15 assists in all competitions while Ángel Correa finished with nine and Koke notched seven assists. But in Lemar, they’re potentially bringing in an elite playmaker, a #10 that Diego Simeone’s system has needed.

What the numbers say

During the 2016/17 season, Lemar broke onto the scene as one of the better midfielders in Ligue 1. He scored 14 goals and added 17 assists in all competitions. This past year, however, the Frenchman had a down year, with three goals and ten assists across 38 appearances.

The less-than-stellar form could be explained by disappointment from a failed move to England, which is understandable — Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva and others left for greener pastures. It may lead one to wonder whether Lemar will keep his head up through an adjustment period, but with the talent that he possesses, it’s a gamble Atlético need to take.

If Atlético receive the Lemar from two seasons ago, the club will receive a game-breaker. There’s a reason why Liverpool wanted him to replace the departing Philippe Coutinho last summer. Lemar averaged 2.7 key passes per 90mins in 2016/17, which was fourth-best for Ligue 1 midfielders with over 20 appearances.

Tottenham Hotspur FC v AS Monaco FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Although he took a step back in 2017/18, Lemar still led Monaco in key passes with 2.1 per 90. Koke led Atlético with 1.7 key passes per 90. So even when Lemar’s production is down, his chance creation numbers would’ve bested anyone on his (potential) new team.

Creating scoring chances is only one aspect of Lemar’s game. He’s more than capable of scoring goals himself. In 2016/17, he averaged 1.3 total shots per 90 with a 24 percent goal conversion rate — which when compared to Atlético’s squad would have placed him fourth and second respectively. If he can further develop this facet to his game, it will lighten the load on Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa.

Where does Lemar play?

Lemar is a versatile player. He can start around the midfield but is more effective on either the left-wing or through the middle. Diego Simeone likes to use a 4-4-2 system with a double pivot, meaning he sends out two defensive midfielders. This eliminates Lemar’s ability to play in the middle. Also, the left side of the pitch is often occupied by Koke and the right side is filled by Correa. Since Lemar rarely plays on the right, the 4-4-2 presents few options for him.

One formation that Simeone could turn to is a 4-2-3-1 (which he occasionally tends to use) and it’s one Lemar has played in while at Monaco. This formation still allows for Simeone to play two defensive midfielders, and Lemar could play on the left while Griezmann could take up the space behind Costa. But that would open up further personnel questions, such as where Vitolo and Correa would slot in — not to mention Simeone would have to choose between five midfielders (Gabi, Koke, Rodri, Saúl and Thomas Partey) for two spots.

Whatever Atleti decide to do, it’s important for the club to make sure they can get the midfielder from two years ago. Lemar could be key to a run at LaLiga and/or a trip deep into the Champions League next season.