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Everton’s transfer wishlist must include one of these creative midfielders

Ronald Koeman’s team has a well-defined problem — and his transfer activity in January must solve it.

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Everton needs a creative midfielder.

The Toffees’ lack of a player who can pull the attacking strings and create chances from the central channel has been well-documented both here at Royal Blue Mersey and across the internet. Everton’s poor run of form, which includes only two victories since mid-September, has only brought more attention to the matter.

If Ronald Koeman’s side legitimately wants to chase a European place, it cannot rely on Gareth Barry to be its playmaker. The 35-year-old is a good passer from his deep-lying position, but he cannot be expected to be the team’s sole playmaker. Ross Barkley has gotten his fair share of chances behind the striker as well, but his decision making and passing have both proven to be too wayward to play as a traditional No. 10, at least at this stage of his career.

Morgan Schneiderlin has been heavily linked to a move to Goodison Park, and it’s tempting to hope that he’s a player that can fill that role. But, he’s really a defense-first player — he’ll cover a fair bit of ground, win tackles, and make interceptions — but he isn’t going to contribute a ton in terms of playmaking.

Since the Frenchman broke onto the scene in 2012-13, Schneiderlin has two assists in 136 appearances. Assists can be a misleading statistic over the short-term, but in the long-term they do provide a small picture of a player’s playmaking ability — and two in more than 100 matches is quite underwhelming. The Frenchman will help the team work more effectively out of the back, but probably won’t be the one setting up chances in front of goal.

If Koeman wants to play a style that in any way revolves around possession, he must have a central midfielder who can find the difficult passes and create chances for Romelu Lukaku. This player can be either a true No. 10 or occupy a deeper role, but his skillset is non-negotiable: good decision making, great vision, and superior passing ability.

These players aren’t easy to find in the transfer market, particularly at reasonable prices. Luckily for Everton supporters and Koeman, ownership was willing to pay around 30 million pounds for Yannick Bolasie, so money doesn’t appear to be a major obstacle for such a deal.

Still, the player must be willing to come to Everton, a club currently mired in mid-table — and his current club must be willing to sell. That’s a lot of “ifs,” which is probably why the Toffees haven’t been heavily linked to such a player in the January transfer window.

That doesn’t negate the clear need for such a player though. So, I’ve compiled a list of potential targets Koeman may try to acquire at this crucial position. Each player will be rated on several criteria:

  • How well the player fits the need: Is the player a traditional, passing No. 10? Or perhaps a player who can play that role, but would prefer to take players on with the ball at his feet?
  • Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: Is the player willing to come to a mid-table club with plenty of potential, but still trying to put it all together?
  • Likelihood club will part with the player: All the players I’ve listed below have some kind of transfer rumors around them, but some are more likely to be moved than others.
  • Financial viability: Yes, the club has a new owner with significant funds. But, I don’t see Farhad Moshiri shelling out 100 million pounds to sign a top-10 player in the world either.

Juan Mata

How well the player fits the need: The Spaniard has lived through a peculiar set of career events, starring for Chelsea in 2012/13, falling out of Jose Mourinho’s good graces in 2013/14, and moving to Manchester United only to be followed by Mourinho to Manchester. But, there’s little doubt that when utilized correctly, Mata can be a creative force.

He put up six goals and 13 assists for Chelsea in 2011/12, then 12 goals and 12 assists the following season. In 2011/12, he averaged a staggering three key passes a match, then followed that up with 2.8 per match the following season.

Most of that success came with Mata playing as a No. 10 behind a young Daniel Sturridge or quickly deteriorating Fernando Torres — so imagine what he could do with Romelu Lukaku up top!

Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: Mata has spent the last three seasons with Manchester United, a club that continues to play well below its lofty expectations. Everton would be a step down, but only a relatively small one at this stage. Given the player’s rocky relationship with Mourinho and somewhat inconsistent playing time, it seems feasible that Mata would accept a move to Merseyside.

Likelihood club will part with the player: This depends on multiple factors. First, there’s questions as to whether or not Mourinho will want to part with the player at all. Mata has fit into United’s plans more than most suspected at the start of the season, despite a still somewhat inconsistent role.

Second, if Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin are truly on their way to Goodison in January, will United want to sell yet another player to the Toffees?

Financial viability: Mata moved to United in 2013/14, after the two best seasons of his career, for 37.1 million pounds. There’s been inflation in the transfer market since then, but Mata’s value has also gone down and he’s three years older now. I can’t see his price being any higher than it was then, and given that Moshiri paid 30 million for Bolasie over the summer, a deal for Mata seems financially feasible.

Overall: Mata would fit Everton’s need, likely be willing to come to the club, and is in a reasonable financial range. The major sticking point is United’s willingness to sell, particularly to a club they may already be sending two players to in January. If Koeman and Moshiri can convince Mourinho to sell, it’ll be a great move — but don’t get your hopes up.

Max Meyer

How well the player fits the need: Meyer is a 21-year-old creative midfielder playing for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. He put up six assists and averaged 1.4 key passes per match for Schalke in 27 appearances last season. His numbers are less impressive this season, but his club has been struggling on the whole, so there’s limited judgments that can be made from his current form.

At only 21, his exact strengths are still somewhat unclear. He’s played as a true No. 10, but also as a second striker — Everton needs the former, but not the latter at this stage. Given that he surely has some growing to do as well, I have doubts that Koeman will so quickly turn the playmaking duties over to Meyer.

Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: If Meyer is looking to leave Schalke, there’s no reason Everton won’t be a sensible destination. Liverpool and Tottenham are both reportedly monitoring the player, but he’ll surely get more playing time with the Toffees, a key selling point.

However, Meyer does not appear to have made any transfer demands, so the extent to which he’ll want to leave his homeland and come to the Premier League is unclear.

Likelihood club will part with the player: Schalke has finished in the Bundesliga top six every season since 2011-12, but currently sits in 11th place at the start of the German winter break. The club probably won’t be thrilled with the idea of losing its budding superstar, but the squad needs upgrading and money from a Meyer sale could be a big boost in such a revamping.

If the price is right, the German club will probably let Meyer leave.

Financial viability: values Meyer at around 16 million euros, or 13.6 pounds (take those estimates with a grain of salt, but they at least give us a starting point). The problem Moshiri may encounter comes not from the player or club itself, but from other English clubs competing for Meyer’s services.

Both Tottenham and Liverpool are keen on securing the young midfielder’s services — meaning the Toffees might have to overpay to bring the player to Goodison Park.

Overall: Mayer is a tempting prospect; he’s very young, has a varied skillset, and could be a long-term No. 10 for Everton. However, the Toffees need a player who can be the team’s primary creative presence immediately — should a 21-year-old be trusted to be that player? The prospect of having to outbid Tottenham and Liverpool certainly muddies the waters as well.

In a vacuum, getting Meyer would be great. But, there may be too many extenuating circumstances for the move to make sense.

Cesc Fabregas

How well the player fits the need: Fabregas is the classic midfield creator. He doesn’t play a ton of defense or move particularly well, but he generates scoring chances for his teammates from either the No. 10 position or a more deep-lying role.

In his best season in the Premier League, he put up 18 assists and averaged 2.8 key passes per game, both impressive stats.

Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: The Spanish midfielder’s club career has been spent at Arsenal, Barcelona, and Chelsea — so there’s little doubt that Everton would be the smallest club he’s ever played for. He hasn’t regularly featured for Antonio Conte at Chelsea this season, though his usage has picked up in December.

If offered the opportunity to leave, he’d likely be open to a move, but there’s serious doubt he’d want it to be to a mid-table club.

Likelihood club will part with the player: If you had asked at the end of November, most pundits would have been certain that Fabregas would be allowed to leave Chelsea for a decent price. He played only 87 Premier League minutes from August to November.

In December though, he’s played 222 minutes in four matches, picking up a goal and an assist along the way. With Oscar likely on his way to China, Conte may want to keep Fabregas as a playmaking option off the bench, even if he doesn’t foresee a regular starting role for the Spaniard.

Financial viability: Fabregas turns 30 in April, which will certainly keep his price from rocketing too high. estimates that his price is around 45 million euros, but that seems artificially high to me, particularly for a player who isn’t even first choice on his current club.

He won’t come cheap, but I don’t suspect he’ll break the bank either.

Overall: Fabregas would fill Everton’s need perhaps as well as or better than any other player on this list. He’d come with a moderate price tag, but would be affordable to this Everton club.

But his willingness to come to Goodison is very much in question, and that’s if his club is even willing to let him depart.

Axel Witsel

How well the player fits the need: Witsel is the one player on this list who doesn’t regularly play the No. 10 role. Rather, he’d fit in as a deep-lying midfielder playing alongside Gueye, probably with Lukaku and Barkley ahead of him.

Conventional wisdom holds that he’s a ball-moving holding midfielder, but admittedly it’s tough to fully judge a player who plays in Russia. The league isn’t particularly impressive and video of match footage isn’t always accessible.

But, I’ve got concerns that Witsel wouldn’t bring anything substantially better than what Schneiderlin does.

Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: Witsel has reportedly been looking for a move away from Zenit for more than a year now, and Everton seems a possible destination. A mid-table English club would definitely be a move up from Russia, where the Belgian midfielder currently plays.

However, his contract is up at the end of the season, so he may want to wait until the summer to choose his own final destination.

Likelihood club will part with the player: Who knows? It seems like Witsel has been on the verge of a move away from Zenit for at least a year now, yet he continues to ply his trade in Russia.

Financial viability: Witsel’s contract runs out in the summer, so Zenit may be willing to accept a lower bid than would otherwise be the case. Everton might have to outbid other clubs, but the Belgian should be affordable for Moshiri and co.

Overall: Witsel is a quality midfield player, but if Schneiderlin is truly on his way to Goodison Park, he may not bring enough added value to be worth his price tag. There was a time during which his addition would have made a lot of sense, but that time may well have passed.

James Rodriguez

How well the player fits the need: No list like this would be complete without an unattainable, pipe dream player — enter the 25-year-old Colombian.

In his first two seasons with Real Madrid, Rodriguez had 21 assists in La Liga play, averaging 2.7 key passes per match in his first season, then 2.3 key passes per match in his second.

He’s played both as a true No. 10 and as a more deep-lying midfielder in Real Madrid’s stacked lineup, but at Everton he would almost certainly play in the more advanced role.

Likelihood player will want to come to Everton: This is where things start to fall apart. Chelsea and Juventus have both been linked to the Colombian playmaker, making a move to Everton significantly less likely. The Toffees could guarantee Rodriguez more playing time than the big clubs, but the step down from Real Madrid to Everton would be a steep one.

Likelihood club will part with the player: Real Madrid seems willing to part with the player, if the price is right. Rodriguez has appeared only eight times for Real in La Liga this season, with only four of those as starts. The Spanish giants certainly have the depth to cope with his departure, if they feel the time is right.

Financial viability: Here’s the other major stumbling block — James moved to Madrid from Monaco for around 80 million euros, a steep asking price for any player. If Rodriguez was inexplicably set on a move to Everton, the Toffees might find a way to scrounge together the money, but that’s obviously a giant “if.”

Overall: Everton is not currently in a position to attract players of this magnitude. Hopefully Ronald Koeman has a plan to get the club to that point, but for now, the Toffees will have to be content chasing another player on this list.