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4 midfield options for Atlético after Boubacar Kamara chooses Aston Villa

Atlético will prioritise signing a midfielder, and there is some top-class young talent available in Ligue 1.

Atlético Madrid have ruled out any massive signings or a squad overhaul this summer. Diego Simeone says the team is there to compete, but that they need some reinforcements.

Atlético have been in the market for a number five ever since Rodri left and Thomas Partey followed him to England a year later. Marseille pivot Boubacar Kamara was linked strongly with a move to the Wanda Metropolitano, but the 22-year-old opted to join Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa project in a blow to Simeone.

Lucas Torreira was signed in 2020, but never managed to nail down his place in Atlético’s team. Héctor Herrera is leaving too, another player who never convinced the manager.

So, let’s presume that Atlético are in the market for a defensive midfielder on a limited budget. With the summer transfer market about to open, expect more links before Atlético decide exactly what to do. But they will prioritize signing a midfielder for next season.

How do we find similar players?

I have used Mark Carey’s statistics from this article in order to cluster the players in question. After clustering the players using these statistics and filtering them for players born after 1998, we are left with a handful of realistic options.

I have focused mainly on players from Ligue 1, as this seems more viable economically than, for example, Declan Rice of West Ham, or Tyler Adams from RB Leipzig (both of whom appeared in the same cluster).

Within the French league, Monaco’s highly-rated Aurélien Tchouaméni is another player who appeared, but let’s assume the recent reports linking him with an €80 million move to Real Madrid move him out of range too. Lyon’s Maxence Caqueret is another player who will turn into an excellent all-rounder but he, too, is out of budget. He just renewed with the French club until 2026.

Are these options below realistic? I would argue they are not, as Simeone wants experience, so Atlético are more likely to end up buying someone who has Champions League experience and is closer to 30 years old than 25. But it’s always fun to speculate and discover new players in the process.

Azzedine Ounahi

The Moroccan just completed his first season at Angers and progresses the ball like few in Ligue 1. The 22-year-old has a contract until 2025 and only broke onto the scene this season after a move last summer from US Avranches. He played over 1,600 minutes and scored twice with two assists.

Ounahi can progress the ball with his dribbling and is more than capable of pressing. His 4.24 pressures in the attacking third put him in the 82nd percentile of all midfielders in Ligue 1 last season. It might not be something Simeone needs him for but in a tandem with a much more defensive midfielder, Ounahi can aid the attackers by putting pressure on the opposition.

Cheick Doucouré

“Cheick knows how to do everything on the pitch,” his Lens teammate and captain Seko Fofana said. “He works in the shadows and, for me, he is very important. He is incredibly complete. He’s one of the best players I’ve played with. He knows how to shoot from distance, how to pass, break the lines, dribble and defend.”

Doucouré is 22 years old and coming off a season in which he scored one goal and assisted four in Ligue 1, helping Lens to a seventh-place finish. He’s made over 100 appearances for the club and grades out strongly in pass completion, progressive passing, and intercepting the ball. This is an ideal time to snag the Mali international before his value skyrockets — Premier League clubs like Arsenal and Crystal Palace are reportedly interested.

Paris Saint-Germain v RC Lens - Ligue 1
Cheick Doucoure of Lens, Lionel Messi of PSG (left) during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and RC Lens (RCL) at Parc des Princes stadium on April 23, 2022.
Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Khéphren Thuram-Ulie

This is as good an article on the midfielder as you’ll get from me:

“Standing at 191cm tall, Thuram towers above most players on the field. This also makes his reach far better than most average grown-up men, which he, in turn, uses to spring into tackles and reach out to win balls that seem far out of his reach at points.”

The son of former star defender Lilian Thuram, Khéphren really seems to have all the tools necessary to be an outstanding midfielder in the future. He’s an excellent three-level passer who produced 2.46 shot-creating actions and nearly 7 progressive carries per 90 for Nice this past season.

Salis Abdul Samed

Clermont Foot’s Moroccan midfielder recently turned 22 and progresses the ball well. His 1.65 progressive dribbles per 90 put him in the 95th percentile, but that might not be much to Cholo Simeone’s liking. Atlético have dynamic players like Thomas Lemar and Rodrigo de Paul in the center of the park already, and the need for balance in midfield was highlighted multiple times last season.

Any of these players — maybe none of them — could be options for Atlético in the coming seasons. Koke is into his 30s and Geoffrey Kondogbia isn’t far behind him. Saúl Ñíguez is a known quantity returning from Chelsea, but it’s unknown what his level will be when he suits up for Atlético once more.

Even with the club set to make at least one midfield addition this summer, securing the right profile right now — getting younger and quicker in the process — is essential for Simeone to set the tone for years of midfield battles to come.