Manuel Aparicio: By The Numbers

Manuel Aparicio: By The Numbers

The Aparicio saga is finally over. When rumours of his availability were swirling around last December, either HFX Wanderers or the MLS somewhere were the two options being floated. More recently it was said ATO were in the lead for his signature, however his final destination was still up in the air, even if it seemed like an inevitability for ATO fans. Like all of my articles so far and all those to come, this piece will break down Aparicio’s statistical impact during the 2023 CPL season, project what role he could play in the ATO set-up for next season, cover his statistical CPL career so far, and highlight some of his strengths and weaknesses. As always, my process is broken down here, and it is recommended to read said article if you are new to my work. 


Statistically speaking, 2023 was a down year for Manuel Aparicio (as will become evident when looking at his career numbers dating back to 2019). However, he generally retained the same profile last season as he always has, and still ranked among the 10 best CMs last season. He was very involved in the play (78th percentile in Touches), contributed offensively with a 78.3 G/A ranking, and could beat his man more often than not (73.1 1v1 success ranking). These three categories along with his great tackling ability have remained generally consistent over his five seasons in the CPL, and have cemented his reputation as one of the best midfielders in the league’s history. His 99 CPL appearances both leave him just outside the top-10 for all-time league games, and also remains a testament to his consistency in selection, which ATO has occasionally lacked, especially in the midfield.

If Aparicio has any glaring weaknesses, it is certainly his Pass%, which for four of his five seasons has ranked around or below league average (48th percentile in 2023). He does make up for it with sheer volume, and there is something to be said for relentless attempts to break a defence, however if ATO continues with a counter-attacking mentality in 2024 he will have to improve to be able to properly take advantage of limited opportunities. His Long Ball success ranking is also poor (44.1), another thing that might need working on for 2024. He also ranked awfully both in ground and aerial duels in 2023, another historical trend for him. Granted he isn’t the tallest of players, and clearly he makes up for it with his ability everywhere else on the field, and thus I wouldn’t worry too much about it. 


As touched upon above, 2023 was a down year for Aparicio, and noticeably so. Before last season he typically averaged in the high 60s/low 70s in terms of WPA, and looking at his expanded stats each year reinforces that. As such, he sits just outside the top third of all CPL players to play three or more seasons. Such consistency is very rare for a player at this level, and therefore it wouldn’t be a shock to see him return to form statistically. However, a point must be made for his age, as he is currently 28 years old (and will be turning 29 at the tail end of the season), just about when footballers tend to start declining. Whether 2023 was the first step in such a regression or simply a blip remains to be seen, however even if it is a sign of things to come, a player of his quality and experience would still be a massive boost to Atlético’s hopes of returning to the top of the CPL. 

Generally speaking, Aparicio profiles as an offensive-minded Central Midfielder, with decent defensive awareness, if not ability. He has played all three positions of the midfield in the past, however I do think he would work best in his regular position for 2024. In making projections for next season, he would be playing just ahead of Alberto Zapater at CDM, who would provide solid defensive cover if anyone gets past him, and beside/behind Bassett in his more attacking role, with whom he has played the past and could link up with in attack. Of course, this assumes some variation of a three-man midfield unit, which has figured in Carlos Gonzalez’s preferred formations in his time with ATO. These two players, Zapater especially, project well to both cover Aparicio’s faults and complement his strengths, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them together most of the season (barring injuries of course). Naturally, he will also face stiff competition from Aboubacar Sissoko, who can also play all three midfield positions - ATO have an embarrassment of riches in the centre of the park. One can assume there will be copious amounts of rotation during the season - by my money, Zapater will most likely be the first option to be benched, simply to preserve his legs for a full campaign, with either Sissoko or Aparicio dropping into that spot. 

Finally, aside from his obvious ability, I do think Aparicio’s signing is monumental for another reason that might not be so obvious. Historically, ATO has not boasted of much game-breaking midfield talent (CMs only, so excluding obvious players like Bassett at CAM and Abdoul Sissoko at CDM). In terms of average WPA grade, ATO’s past central midfielders have been comfortably the worst position group in club history, right alongside Left Backs - 48.8 and 46 respectively. In five seasons, there has only been one midfielder of the 8 variety to grade above a 65, and that was McKendry in 2021. Aparicio, whether or not he bounces back, would be a massive reversal of a historically poor trend of players, and can hopefully guide this new-look ATO to a competitive 2024. Aparicio adds another name to a historic off-season for Fernando Lopez, but who knows, there might still be more coming!

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