That’s not to say there no valid explanation for why Silva has preferred Davies, or why it’s working, but Morgan Schneiderlin is an elite passer of the ball from a deep lying position and Tom Davies is not elite at anything. In fact, not only is he not elite at anything, he doesn’t even particularly stand out in any capacity, either, so why is he starting for (and captaining) this Everton side that is a run of relatively good form?
The answer really goes back to Ronald Koeman. In Koeman’s first season at the helm for the Toffees, he set about putting together a midfield that matched the profile he had at other clubs, where two of his three midfielders were a ball winner and a deep lying passer (in fact, Schneiderlin had filled the latter role for him before).
The third midfielder would be a high energy player that moved the ball between that pivot and the forwards, and usually at least one of the wingers was a converted central player.
Take the win 4-2 against Leicester that season. Morgan and Gana played the pivot, Davies was the third man in the midfield and Ross Barkley was out on the right wing. Barkley and Davies carried the ball and provided pace and energy, Gana won the ball back when it was turned over and Morgan distributed. It worked. A 3-1 win against Burnley a few weeks later saw the same structure employed.
Then Everton bought Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson is a wonderful player, and greatly improved the quality of Everton’s roster, but he doesn’t fit either role that Koeman previously had Barkley and Davies filling. But boy did Ronnie try, and while we saw left wing Gylfi over and over again, and it just didn’t work.
Gylfi also does not work in concert with Morgan and Gana. The reason is that while someone like Tom Davies is no speedster, his work rate defensively and his better (though not particularly great) dribbling ability when compared to Sigurdsson means he can balance out the pivot in a way that the Iceland star cannot.
So this leaves any manager of Everton with a conundrum. His three best midfielders are Gylfi, Gana, and Morgan, but he cannot play them together, so someone has to take the fall. Marco Silva has decided to sacrifice Schneiderlin, keep his ball winner and creator on the pitch, and let Tom Davies do the dirty work in between, and it’s working.
Part of why it’s working surely needs to be credited to Davies himself. This season, he has dramatically improved his possession loss rate. He currently loses possession 2.1 times per 90 minutes compared to 4.2 times per 90 last season, and his dribble completion percentage has gone up from 50% to 78.5% this year.
If these things are sustainable than he can be a legitimate starting piece in a midfield that competes for Europe. Full credit to Davies for improving himself as a player and credit also to a manager who finally developed him as a player.
It will be interesting to see if Davies continues in this role when Andre Gomes gets healthy and match fit. Gomes is a much more natural dribbler than Davies and as a ball carrier between Gana and Gylfi should theoretically do very well, but for now our homegrown man bun is filling the role nicely.
Marco Silva has taken Tom Davies and used him to fix a problem created by Koeman and Walsh, and for that reason, despite all the injuries and complications the early season has had, Everton has reason to be optimistic.