Morgan Schneiderlin was Everton’s big January signing — the only experienced player brought into a team that had spent the prior two months struggling.
There was a lot of pressure on the Frenchman to be the force that stabilized Everton’s midfield — he was younger than Gareth Barry, more disciplined than Idrissa Gana Gueye, and more experienced than Tom Davies. Within a month of his arrival, he proved himself to be more important than all three of those players, and looks to be a massively important player going forward for the Toffees.
The 27-year-old’s calming influence in the center of midfield was evident both in attack and defense.
Schneiderlin’s pass completion percentage was an outrageous 89.9% — easily the best on the team and 3.3% better than Gueye, the next closest player. Because Schneiderlin plays in a deep-lying role, there’s an inclination to assume that his percentage was so high because he played mostly simple, short passes out of the back. But that was not true.
Yes, Schneiderlin attempted 54.6 short passes per 90 minutes, the highest of any Everton player (he completed 91% of those). But he also attempted 6.5 long passes per 90, more than any non-defender or goalkeeper.
His accuracy on those long balls was even more impressive — he completed 75.4% of his attempted long passes, easily the best on the team. Ross Barkley was the only player particularly close to the Frenchman in long-ball accuracy, completing 72.1% of his.
Schneiderlin’s passing ability from a deep-lying role helped to massively improve Everton’s ability to transition from defense to attack. Of course, Schneiderlin’s defensive awareness and responsibility made a big difference too (more on that later), but his passing ability filled a huge gap in the Toffees’ midfield.
The team’s record with and without him this season tells a huge story:
With Schneiderlin in the lineup: 14 matches, 9 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses; 32 goals for, 13 goals against; 2.29 goals scored per match, 0.93 goals against per match.
Without Schneiderlin in the lineup: 24 matches, 8 wins, 7 draws, 8 losses; 30 goals for, 31 goals against; 1.25 goals scored per match, 1.29 goals against per match.
As is often the case with playmaking, deep-lying midfielders, Schneiderlin is neither particularly strong or fast. He’s got solid positional awareness, so he generally does a good job of staying out of situations where he can be preyed upon, but when isolated, it can be problematic.
He’s also not going to provide much in the final third. He’s only got two Premier League assists to his name after five seasons in the league, to go along with 13 goals. As a deep-lying midfielder, it isn’t imperative that he contribute in this area, but it would certainly be a nice bonus to see a little more from him there.
Schneiderlin plays as a true deep-lying No. 6. He had success this season both playing alongside another true No. 6 in Gareth Barry, and as the lone deep-lying central midfielder with Idrissa Gueye ahead of him in a marauding No. 8 role.
When paired with Barry or another No. 6, he gives his team substantial defensive solidity and cover, which allows a true attacking midfielder increased license going forward. When with Gueye, the Senegalese midfielder has the ability to more aggressively chase the ball down and try to force turnovers, as he knows there’s a reliable stopper behind him.
The only issue with Schneiderlin’s usage last season was simply that he went unused too frequently due to injury. He doesn’t have a substantial injury history, so hopefully he’ll remain healthy next season.
At only 27 years old, Schneiderlin looks to be the long-term anchor for Everton in the center of midfield. His distribution from deep in the midfield is unmatched by any other current Toffee, and if Romelu Lukaku leaves this summer, you could easily argue the Frenchman will become the club’s most important player.
It will be imperative that Koeman intelligently manages Schneiderlin’s minutes for this reason — and with Barry as the only player in the squad currently who can even come close to replicating his play, that may be a tough task.
But, if Everton can add a talented attacking midfielder like Gylfi Sigurdsson or Davy Klaassen, a midfield trio composed of that player as a No. 10, Gana Gueye at the No. 8, and Schneiderlin at the No. 6 could carry the club for years to come.
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