Thomas Partey vs Yves Bissouma the Breakdown of Arsenal’s Move for a Midfield Mastero
Actually, Partey and Bissouma are similar in defensive phases. Both are active pressers. Very much about winning the ball ASAP, not cutting off options for the opponent, a la Declan Rice. In a double pivot, you need a balance between your CMs. One active and one sitting defender.
That’s what Atletico had with Partey and Rodri. What we have with Xhaka and Partey. Kante and Jorginho. Rodri-Gundogan.
Bissouma is ‘rash’ like Partey is. They actively hunt for the ball. Potter is using Bissouma in a single pivot role, so you expect him to curb the tendency
over time. A holding midfielder in a single pivot has to play like Declan Rice. Defend with your brain, not your body. Read the game very well. Cut off/anticipate passing lanes and angles while blocking options into the inside.
Maturity is needed. Tchouameni. Rice. Ndidi.
Potter playing Bissouma in the single-pivot will make him a more mature defender over time. He will learn to curb his ball hunting instincts and see the game around him. He is still learning. He is not yet there. In a season’s time, he should be ready as a sitting defender.
In advanced possession phases, Partey attempts too many verticals for any careful coach to let him singlehandedly run the game. His verticality means that you lose the ball a lot more and may not be able to sustain attacks. Of course, it’s all about balancing everything.
Partey is definitely valuable for any coach to have. But he needs to be balanced both in possession and out of possession. You need someone less eager, less vertical, more horizontal, with a bit more maturity about his play: Rodri/Xhaka/Jorginho. Siemone articulated this at Atletico.
Someone like Thiago Alcantara or Xavi Hernandez are more complete with their pass selection. They have the right balance of horizontals and verticals at the same world-class level. Partey/Kimmich falls on the vertical side of the spectrum, Xhaka/Jorginho on the horizontal side.
Rodri is a curious case for me. He’s definitely more horizontal than Partey but he’s also very vertical at will. It looks like Pep believes that he can reach Thiago and Xavi level of perfect balance in pass selection. Maybe. One to watch for, definitely.
Kimmich is like Partey.
His pass selection contains a higher number of vertical passes than a Jorginho or Xhaka. He forces the issue. Just like Partey.
Note that I’m not talking about competence or ability here. All of these midfielders mentioned are VERY capable of hitting almost any pass.
It is more about what they choose to do. Their mind. Their choices in dictating the flow of the game. Bayern had Thiago and Kimmich in a pivot. Thiago was complete enough to balance out Kimmich’s vertical passing and to bring the verticality when Kimmich was not available.
This is why they could sustain their attacks for longer. Thiago is also a less willing runner than Goretzka is. Their possession play was more patient, more compact with him. This is why Bayern suffered defensively when Thiago left.
It’s all about balancing your pass selection.
In some games, you need more vertical passing. In others, you need more horizontal passing. Deep CMs like Xhaka, Partey, Jorginho, Kimmich and others are still on a journey towards balancing this act.
Thiago/Xavi/Busquets are very complete. They always know what each game needs.
It is very difficult to find these two qualities in one player:
—a player who can hit any/all passes at will
—a player who knows to perfectly select the right passing actions for a particular game (or phase of the game)
There are many WC passers. Pass selection is the issue.
Bissouma is more similar to Xhaka than Partey in his pass selection. The problem is that it is not clear whether he is a reliable volume passer across many games (completes most of his passing actions very consistently).
Since you can’t let Partey be the volume passer in most games (he is too vertical), you must give the passing keys to someone else. Bissouma fits the bill.
But it is not clear whether he can handle regularly making the most passes in a team without costing the team.
I believe that Bissouma can be a (reliable) volume passer. I have seen enough to believe he can handle that mental load.
But it is still a risk. If he does not end up reliable, you are in trouble. Both in terms of the money you paid (volume passers are usually expensive) as well as the effect on your possession schemes (if you can’t reliably progress the ball in the 1st and 2nd phase, lol, positional play is not for your team).
It is a risk that costs more than the potential reward. Better you go for a more proven option and let teams with no choice like Leeds and Brighton handle the risky job of developing the next volume passers while they are still developing/inconsistent (Kalvin Phillips).
Arsenal has a choice. Why take an unnecessary risk?
Some players are born to be volume passers (Thiago, Fabregas, Gilmour etc).
Some are developed into that role (Bissouma, Kalvin Phillips etc).
A club of Arsenal’s stature NEVER goes for the moulded ones, especially while still imperfect. You go for the natural ones. The ones for whom it’s a breeze even asleep.
So, yeah, I’ve forgotten whatever I was initially talking about but two things clearly hold us back from getting Bissouma to play with Partey.
—His defensive instincts are still similarly rash.
—His volume passing needs more years of reliability before it’s not a risk.
It is an indication of Graham Potter’s ability as a coach that he has deployed Bissouma in a single pivot role, positions in which both of these issues are being addressed and improved game after game.
Article by Nonewthing