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In an Atletico midfield with Gabi, Saul, Koke and later Rodri, Ghanaian prodigy Thomas Partey was always going to have to bide his time on the reserves and deputise when necessary, sometimes even at right back and centre back. But when Rodri was sold in the summer of 2019, a season after club legend Gabi had left to Saudi Arabia, the chance finally came for Thomas Partey to let his black star shine. It is a chance he has grasped firmly with both hands, as encapsulated in his man of the match performance against current UEFA Champions League holders Liverpool.
Liverpool have been invincible in the league this season, drawing one game out of a possible twenty six. With a trustworthy goalkeeper in Alisson, world’s best defender and UEFA Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk and pacy prodigy Joe Gomez, full back weapons Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, tireless midfield of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho and an attacking trident of the brilliant Brazilian Roberto Firmino flanked by CAF Player of the Year Sadio Mane and his runner-up Mohammed Salah, this Liverpool side is arguably on course to be the greatest club side in history. They were however made to look like bumbling buffoons in a defensive masterclass marshalled by Ghanaian midfield maestro Thomas Partey.
The Merseyside club are famous for their tactic of ‘gengenpressing’, where they aggressively attempt to recover the ball once it’s lost. This often works to great effect, but tonight Thomas Partey was in a class of his own. He had a 100 percent dribble success rate (two out of two, the third highest completed on the night) and completed 35 passes, breezing through the gengenpress with élan and composure. He was the clichéd rock at the back, making the most ball recoveries with 13 and completing five tackles. He won the most ground duels with seven out of ten, bullying Liverpool’s workhorses off the ball. To top off his absolute gem of a performance, he also attempted the most shots in the game with three, including a couple of audacious attempts from near the halfway line at the end of each half, almost akin to basketball buzzer-beaters.
It’s no wonder the Madridistas were in a festive mood after the Partey they had just witnessed. Atleti would be praying he can replicate this performance at Anfield, and having often been accused of not hitting top gear on international duty after an underwhelming AFCON 2019, Ghanaians and Partey himself would be hoping that he can carry this form into the AFCON 2021 qualifiers against Sudan at the end of next month.
By Nene Afadzinu
The writer is an intern at Media General.