Toni Moya, Arona Sané, Augusto Fernández, Nicolás Gaitán: N/A
Moya played the last few minutes of the April 1 win versus Deportivo La Coruña, while Arona replaced the injured Vitolo in a 2-0 loss to Espanyol on May 6.
Augusto left for Beijing Renhe in January after just over 500 minutes in all comps — none before November. Interestingly, Atlético Madrid won all four games in which he started. Gaitán also left for China, as he joined Dalian Yifang in February with Carrasco. The €25 million flop played less than 550 minutes and Atleti won just five of the 12 games he appeared in.
Yannick Carrasco: 6.2
Carrasco started strongly but reverted to type by October, rarely playing for the team and cutting a frustrated, pouty figure when things didn’t break his way. He went more than three months between goals — starting with the opener on Sept. 23 against Sevilla and ending with a strike against Lleida on Jan. 9 — and three of his four assists came against Las Palmas. That Atlético hit their best form after he jetted off for China isn’t a coincidence.
The ex-Sevilla winger equalled Carrasco’s goal tally across all competitions despite the Belgian getting a four-month head start. Vitolo also did that with spotty minutes — which makes Cholo’s all-out assault to acquire him all the more strange. Still, you can see the qualities that make the 28-year-old an archetypal Atlético winger: versatility, technical ability and a high work rate. He came up with a big assist in April’s Madrid Derby and played well in big late-season wins against Alavés and Arsenal.
Gabi made 50 appearances across all competitions and played in many of Atlético’s biggest fixtures, so one might be tempted to say the captain is still going strong at 34 years old. But he played his fewest minutes in the league (2,347) for a decade and started off the bench 12 times — as many as he had the past eight seasons combined. His tackles and interceptions dipped and he was dribbled past at an alarmingly high rate (2.5 per 90 minutes). However, the ex-Zaragoza man’s passing accuracy topped out at over 85 percent and Atlético went 14-2-4 across all competitions after January when he started.
That said, Rodri has been signed ostensibly to replace him — and his addition to what is now a loaded midfield means Gabi might be fortunate to make 30 appearances next season, let alone 50.
Ángel Correa: 6.9
After we clamored for him to see the pitch more, Correa played 3,259 minutes, scored nine goals and grabbed eight assists across a whopping 56 games. That’s not a stellar return, and while Simeone didn’t help by playing him out of position too much, Ángelito’s inconsistent patches remained too prevalent.
Between Sept. 23 and Jan. 23 — a 24-game stretch with 16 starts — Correa scored two goals and assisted one. He steadied the ship following his golazo versus Valencia on Feb. 4 but disappeared once more in April and May, when he managed as many red cards (one) as assists.
At times, Simeone turned to Correa out of necessity — Vitolo’s integration took time, leaving Correa as the only experienced “winger” in the side. He’s a more natural second striker, but that role is Antoine Griezmann‘s and Correa isn’t good enough to replace him now. It leaves the 23-year-old in an awkward position, as Vitolo will play more in 2018/19 and the club has been linked with players like Thomas Lemar — not to mention they may spend big on a Griezmann substitute.
Koke again found himself shuttling between left, right and central midfield, never really calling one position home. That’s never necessarily been a bad thing — it makes him a versatile, valuable player in both phases. However, he registered just four assists in league play (his lowest total since 2011/12) and he accrued 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes (lowest since 2010/11, pre-Simeone).
The problem, if you will, is that Koke is Atlético’s Charlie Kelly. In addition to creating chances, he has to drift all over the pitch, run more than anyone, take set pieces, make tackles and occasionally make clearances for 90-180 minutes per week. It’s easy to lose sight of Koke’s importance because he’s so busy cleaning up messes, and the month he missed this season encompassed the infamous Qarabag draws. The 26-year-old is being handed the midfield baton — he completed 51 short passes per 90 minutes in LaLiga, the second-highest average of his career, at a personal-best 85 percent clip. Rodri’s arrival should help him snare that baton and end a deliberate process.
Thomas Partey: 7.5
The breakout star in this midfield and arguably in this team. Thomas developed at a rapid pace and maintained a high level throughout the year — 3,442 minutes precisely, far and away a personal best. The 24-year-old has grown into a confident dribbler and an assured passer, yet he’s not often outmuscled as a central midfielder or as an emergency right back. His discipline (only seven yellow cards all season) and long-range shooting added even more depth to his richly-colored game. A tremendous season overall, one that certainly honored Tiago’s old #5 and made Thomas an Atleti Twitter hero.
Saúl Ñíguez: 7.5
Saúl is too talented for his own good. Simeone often will play him as a water carrier because he’s such a good ball-winner, which does his attacking abilities a disservice — when Saúl’s freed up, he can do this. And this. His discipline and his passing could use polish, but even the latter shot up to a solid 82 percent in 2017/18. Saúl is incredibly durable (a team-high 4,751 minutes across all competitions) with terrific defensive instincts and that deadly eye for goal — he’s 23 years old and already one of Europe’s most complete box-to-box midfielders.
Who was Atlético’s best midfielder in 2017/18?
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