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Everton English Premier League Season Preview: Defensive Midfielders

A look inside Ronald Koeman’s engine room.

Everton v Hull City - Premier League
Idrissa Gueye with Morgan Schneiderlin
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Stats

Everton Defensive Midfielders

Player Tkl % Def. actions/90 Passes/90 Pass % Long balls/90 Long ball %
Player Tkl % Def. actions/90 Passes/90 Pass % Long balls/90 Long ball %
Schneiderlin 58.00% 4.6 72.3 90.00% 5.9 75.00%
Gueye 74.00% 7.3 63.1 86.00% 3.2 61.00%
Besic* 76.00% 5.6 54.2 86.00% 3.7 74.00%
Barry 70.00% 4.5 58.5 79.00% 4.3 50.00%
McCarthy 70.00% 4.3 36.2 76.00% 2.8 53.00%
*Denotes stats from 2015/2016 season

Tactics

In Ronald Koeman’s 4-3-3, the concept of a defensive midfielder is both crucial and ambiguous. On one hand, in the first choice XI, it is Morgan Schneiderlin who occupies the true DM position, yet he is paired with Idrissa Gueye who is actually the more defensively oriented player even though he plays further up the pitch.

As mentioned previously by RBM the pattern of this sort of midfield pairing is something that we have seen before from Ronald Koeman at his previous stops, so it should come as no surprise that he returns to what he knows here at Everton. In this setup, Schneiderlin (or whoever is in that role) shields the defence and act as a passing fulcrum and deep lying playmaker. The man ahead covers more ground and breaks up passing lanes, causing general disruption in the opposing offence.

Current Players

Morgan Schneiderlin

Seeing more of the ball than any of his fellow defensive midfielders and completing an astonishing 90% of his passes, Morgan Schneiderlin is the centre piece to everything Everton has going on in the middle of the pitch. Frankly, the fact that Jose Mourinho sold Morgan for a mere £19.5m in January and then turned around and paid twice that for Nemanja Matic who isn’t even as good a player is a major indictment on the Portuguese bus driver.

I would argue that Schneiderlin is the most important player on Everton’s team. He is not a midfielder that is going to be an elite defensive player, rather he’s going to provide some defensive support in the midst of providing exceptional play in possession, and having him on the squad changes our entire outlook.

Morgan fit perfectly for Koeman in his last stop at Southampton and he will do so again here. Any defensive shortcomings do not matter. If he is fit and not needing a rest, he’ll be a starter every single game.

Idrissa Gueye

The other guaranteed starter from a defensive midfield perspective is Gana. He once again fits the mold of a Koeman midfielder to a ‘T’ but in a bit different way. Check out how he compares to a midfielder who played the same role as him for Koeman at Feyenoord:

Gana is not the passing maestro that Schneiderlin is, but thankfully he knows his limitations. He doesn’t over-dribble, he doesn’t try too many risky passes, he runs hard, covers space, and disrupts the other team. He had a great season last year, and as his partnership with Morgan continues to grow I think he’ll be even better this season.

Muhamed Besic

Besic is the wild card in the defensive midfield shuffle. Gone all last season due to injury, and a bit part player the season before, we really are not quite sure what we have. We do know that he’s going to work hard, and we know a few of the things he has in his toolbox, but we aren’t quite sure what it will look like in real life.

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

The best case scenario for Besic is that he earns the ability to be the primary backup for both Morgan and Gana this season. His skill set offers the full complement of neither but at least a decent portion of both. The worst case scenario is that he finds himself overwhelmed in the Premier League on a team as ambitious as Everton.

While perhaps not the most daring proclamation ever, I think it’ll be somewhere in between. As long as Barry is on the team, his experience is likely to earn him both trust and leeway from Koeman. In some ways this is a positive for Besic because it gives him a bit of a safety net. However, it certainly disquiets any notions of super sub achievement.

Gareth Barry

When people grow up they’ll often encounter a song that they absolutely loved as a youth. Sometimes, the result is getting to hear a classic that you’d nearly forgotten about, other times Who let the dogs out? comes on and you are left wondering why on earth anyone thought that song was good 17 years ago.

Some things are good in their time, and then that time passes them by and they just aren’t it anymore. Gareth Barry’s game is like this. One might think that he would best approximate Morgan’s long ball performance off the bench, until you realise that while Barry completes a high number of long balls, he does so at a very poor percentage. You might think that Gaz is a strong defender, until you realise how many cards he gives up.

Now, before you jump on me, sure, a lot of those cards are tactical. However, if Barry was a better defender he wouldn’t need to take tactical yellows as often as he does. Barry is an okay rotational player at this point. If either Morgan or Gana go down I shudder at the thought of him replacing them for a meaningful game. I think he’s going to really show his age this year and will be all but gone from the rotation by season’s end.

James McCarthy

What stands out most about McCarthy’s season last year? O’Neill fighting with Koeman over the fact that he was always hurt but picked for his national team anyway? Yeah.

McCarthy is done as a player for a team of Everton’s level, simple as that. If he plays in anything more than an early round domestic cup game I’ll be shocked.

State of the Position

Our starting defensive midfielders are wonderful. They form one of the better pairings in world football and will not be out of their depth against any opponent that Everton will see this season. The depth, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem. The trouble is that there is little to no chance that Everton does anything to address the depth at this point in the window, because there are bigger concerns at each end of the pitch.

Conceivably, Tom Davies could drop down and play the Gana role, and that could increase the depth in this area some, but to say that’s not a like for like replacement is about as much an understatement as possible. If Morgan and Gana stay healthy, we’ll be totally fine, with nothing to worry about. If one of them goes down, things get interesting in a hurry.