Over the last two seasons, Everton's top choices at right and left midfield have stayed more or less static. Kevin Mirallas has owned the starting role at the right wing since his addition ahead of the 2012-2013 season, and Steven Pienaar returned from a short spell at Tottenham in January of 2012 and immediately took back his spot in the starting 11. But now, Aiden McGeady, the 27 year old Irish winger, has been brought in from Spartak Moscow and will certainly look to push Pienaar or Mirallas from the starting 11. What will all of this mean for the Toffees?
Of course, any discussion about Everton wingers is incomplete without acknowledging the presence of the injured Gerard Deulofeu as well. The Spanish starlet was expected to be out 6-8 weeks following his December 14th injury against Fulham. The 19 year old was in the midst of a spectacular run of form when he was struck with an untimely injury, and certainly must factor in as well once he is 100%.
Even at just 19, Deulofeu may very well be the most explosive of the wingers on the roster right now. But he still has a lot to learn about playing full matches, and doesn't appear particularly interested in playing defense. When he returns, he will make an excellent super-sub, but with McGeady's addition, his starts should be limited.
Most of Deulofeu's appearances came in place of Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian has been quite unpredictable this season; he scored an absolute stunner against Norwich from a free kick this weekend, but has only two other goals on the season. His first was against Liverpool in a goalmouth scramble, and the other a 90th minute goal that closed out a 4-1 victory against Fulham: not exactly headline grabbing goals. Mirallas does have 5 assists as well though, and that aspect of his game is crucial this season, now that the Toffees actually have a striker worth feeding.
For much of last season, the offense was run through him, and he was nearly impossible to defend. Now that more offensive options have emerged though, he has struggled to find his purpose in the side, as the ball hasn't constantly been at his feet. Still, Mirallas has proven to be a capable player at this level, and is surely the best pure finisher of the team's top 4 wingers. When playing even close to at his best, Mirallas is incredibly hard to exclude from the lineup; when he is not, he could find himself one of the odd men out.
Could Steven Pienaar, one of the longest tenured Toffees, be another one of those odd men out? The South African hasn't played a full 90 since November, only has 1 goal and 2 assists this season, and is the oldest of the wingers. Still, Pienaar has things to offer to Everton, as he links remarkably well with Leighton Baines, is a tireless worker, and defends the most out of the team's top wingers. Can he retain a regular starting spot once Deulofeu returns and McGeady comes into the squad?
Much will depend on how quickly McGeady adjusts to the English game. To be a top player in Scotland and Russia as Aiden has is praiseworthy, but the Premier League is on a different level, and McGeady will have to adjust to playing against the most stern opposition of his career. The Irishman certainly does have tools at his disposal to make contributions at this level though; he is comfortable with both feet, can play either the right or left, and has impressive pace.
If McGeady can get up to speed quickly and make solid contributions, Roberto will certainly have a plethora of options. Neither Pienaar nor Mirallas are 90 minute a week, every week kind of players, so at the very least Everton now has the ability to rotate them in and out without sacrificing talent. Additionally, if McGeady or Deulofeu are playing well, Mirallas could be slotted in behind the striker, or even up front to rest Lukaku as the season winds down. Martinez has occasionally deployed Mirallas there and believes he can be an effective player up front.
I believe that ultimately the top combination will be McGeady down the left and Mirallas down the right, with Pienaar and Deulofeu as options off the bench. Deulofeu's best use right now is as a super-sub; his pace and dribbling ability can ruin tired defenses much more easily than at the start of matches, and his defensive shortcomings would be less problematic if he is brought on to help close a deficit. My guess is that benching Pienaar will ultimately vastly improve his play when he does get on the pitch. The South African has looked tired frequently this campaign, and a reduced role may suit him better.
What do you think? What are Everton's best choices at wing? Share your thoughts below!