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Transfer target scouting, part 2: Witsel, Schneiderlin, Blind

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Following up from last week, we look at some more rumored purchases

Wales v Belgium - Quarter Final: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Last week we took a look at some players that were thought to be attracting interest from Everton in the transfer market. As expected, the rumor mill has not stopped turning. For part 2, we will examine Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, Euro 2016 semifinalist Morgan Schneiderlin, and Dutch defensive midfielder/left back-turned-center back Daley Blind, all of whom have been linked to Everton at various points over the last few days.

Axel Witsel

The Witsel-to-Everton rumors have been gaining serious traction as of late, with some sources suggesting a £28.5m deal is close. As usual, I’m in the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it camp. In any case, here is his radar from last season courtesy of @FussballRadars (for more information on these charts, head here):

I must admit that I watched approximately 0% of Zenit’s matches last season, but transfermarkt.com indicates that almost all of Witsel’s minutes were played at defensive midfield, and a cursory look at WhoScored.com match reports tells us that manager André Villas-Boas used him either (a) at the center or left of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3 or (b) on the left of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1.

With that in mind, nothing exceptionally positive or negative jumps out at me at first glance at his numbers. His passing percentage is excellent and he is rarely dribbled past, but he creates little, fouls a lot, and doesn’t contribute many defensive actions. It can be hard to know what to make of this—Witsel profiles more or less as an “all-around midfielder,” which is a role that tends not to be as obvious when looking at numbers.

Watching some Zenit videos and Belgium over the last couple years backs this up; Witsel seems to be the sort of all-action midfielder that elite teams love, especially in the Premier League. He is tidy in possession and energetic. Looking at this Everton team, you might see him as a better version of James McCarthy, a player who has slipped a bit in recent years. I’d hesitate to call him a true defensive destroyer (a straight replacement for Gareth Barry, for example) but I do think the Premier League and Everton’s system would suit him.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Speaking of defensive midfielders, here’s one for you:

Mmmmmmm. So maybe it’s not Busquets but Schneiderlin is good, he’s in his prime, and he’s probably more of a true DM than Witsel is. Furthermore, he’s proven himself in the Premier League with two different teams, unlike Witsel.

Like Witsel, Schneiderlin is by no means a player that will give you offensive production from the base of the midfield, but that’s not really what he would be asked to do under Koeman at Everton, and it’s not really something you can or should expect of dedicated DMs. Positionally he is outstanding, and the high pass % + low dispossessions supports the notion that he can be trusted in possession in key central areas. If you are looking for a Barry replacement (and Everton should be), you could do much much worse.

The problem is that his market value is as high as it’s ever been, and he’s just not the kind of player you can get on a shrewd deal at this point. That being said, Mourinho is a bit of a wildcard so who knows.

Daley Blind

The Blind rumors are even a bit more tenuous than the above two players, but they catch the eye given the general lack of Everton involvement with center backs so far this transfer window.

As defensive statistics can be fraught with difficulty, center backs in particular are notoriously resistant to statistical analysis. Another category of players that can be difficult to analyze are those that play many positions. So I’m going to resist posting Daley Blind numbers and instead just briefly make a few general observations.

The most obvious (and potentially lazy) analysis of Blind is that he is the kind of defender who is great on the ball but who lacks the physicality usually demanded of CBs in the modern Premier League. He’s Dutch, he’s played left back and central midfield, and he’s pretty small (5’11”/160lbs; 180cm/72kg).

In truth this isn’t a totally terrible summary of the player, as basic as it is. Over the last two years, he’s won about 38-45% of his aeriel duels, (Kompany, Mertesacker, et al are usually in the mid-to-high 70s; Chris Smalling hovers in the mid-60s). Not all center backs need to be aerial masters though, especially if they make up for it in other areas.

Blind’s strengths lie more in his ability to contribute to a possession game with good ball circulation and tidy passing. Not unlike John Stones, he is quite comfortable bringing the ball out of defense, and he has an eye and a mind for a penetrating pass, which is an extremely useful if not entirely necessary quality in a center back:

This is just one example, but not everybody in the league can do this kind of thing from that position (read the full article—it’s fascinating—if you want a deeper dive into buildup play).

Blind is an intriguing one to think about, as he’s one of those players that seems to be highly regarded without ever being considered elite. At 26 he’s not super young anymore, but at the right price his experience and versatility make him a great player to have in the squad.