Thomas Partey: Africa’s most improved midfielder this season?

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Is the Ghana international the continent’s most improved midfielder this season?

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Thomas Partey’s performance against Deportivo La Coruna served a reminder of the Atletico Madrid man’s quality and provided further evidence that he’s Africa’s most improved midfielder this season.

The Black Star’s campaign with Atleti was already confirmed as the best of his career long before his showing against Depor on Sunday.

Consistently, Partey has been one of Los Rojiblancos’ most important players this term, establishing himself as a pivotal figure in Diego Simeone’s starting XI rather than a peripheral component of Atleti’s squad.

In the last two seasons, the West African amassed 433 and 631 playing minutes in La Liga which, at 1064 combined, is already less than he’s managed this term — 1866 and counting.

Last term he started six matches under Simeone—his career best in the Spanish capital—but this season already he’s made 22 starts, and entered from the bench on a further five occasions.

The rest of his key statistics are all also up.

Thomas Partey Atletico Madrid

Partey has won an average of 1.6 aerial battles per match this season, while his tackles per match and interceptions per match are both better than in any of his previous two campaigns.

Offensively, he’s also improved his contribution notably.

This term, the powerhouse has averaged 1.3 successful dribbles per match so far this term, up from 0.6 and 0.9 in his previous two campaigns.

Assists may be down, but Partey’s return of three goals is already the best of his time at Atleti.

Thomas Partey | 2017-18 stats

He’s also playing a more central role to Atletico’s overall play, with his improving technical qualities resulting in Partey averaging 39.7 passes per match—significantly more than the 15.3 and the 23.8 he averaged in his last two campaigns.

His pass success rate may be slightly down on last term (83.4% compared to 83.7%) but this is testament to Partey taking more risks and being more proactive with his passing.

Against Depor, last weekend, Partey delivered the kind of all-round performance that few of his continental peers could match.Thomas Partey Atletico Madrid

He’s already weighed in with decisive goals this term—notably in back-to-back games against Qarabag and Depor in Autumn — but this was a forceful showing in which Partey was involved in much of what was good about Atleti’s victory.

Consider these stats: Partey’s three chances created was a game-high, while his pass accuracy rate of 94.7% was higher than any of the game’s other 22 starting players.

His 88 touches put him third in the contest behind Koke and Gabi, while no one on the pitch bested Partey’s seven completed dribbles.

Defensively, he also weighed in with three tackles and one interception, although it’s worth noting that when paired with the veteran Gabi, the 24-year-old takes on a more offensive brief in the knowledge that the former Zaragoza man will hold the fort and protect the defence.

For the final 25 minutes of the weekend’s clash, Partey switched to right-back to replace the youngster Carlos Munoz. While he excelled in this role, and sured up the defence, his stats in various key areas could have been higher if he’d remained in the centre of the park.

Luis Suarez and Thomas ParteyAdmittedly, Deportivo have been one of the big disappointments of La Liga so far this term, but how many African players are delivering this kind of dominant performance in one of Europe’s major leagues this term?

Naby Keita, certainly, stands ahead of Partey in terms of Africa’s greatest central midfielders in the world today, but while the Ghanaian couldn’t match the Guinean’s masterful display in the victory over Bayern Munich last month, Keita hasn’t significantly improved on last season.

Hakim Ziyech offers a different kind of midfield presence and ought to be considered in the discussion, but both Jean Seri and Franck Kessie have arguably declined this term.

Partey has been a revelation in Spain this season since he was given a greater opportunity to impress by Simeone, and while his recent contract renewal should take him out of this summer’s transfer maelstrom, his progress from this point will be fascinating to watch.

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With Atleti’s small squad already stretched by injury, expect the Black Star to play a key role on Thursday night when the Spanish giants face Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League.

And then on Sunday, Real Madrid, and the chance to re-establish a seven-point La Liga lead over their city rivals.

Don’t be surprised if Partey’s stock rises further still between now and the season’s end.

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