Early this season, an Everton midfield featuring Tom Davies was being fairly effective. League wins over Southampton, Fulham and Leicester City all featured the homegrown player, and he seemed to have found his place in Marco Silva’s side. The trouble was, it wasn’t so much that Davies was playing well, it’s just that he fit the role Marco Silva needed better than the healthy alternatives. He was still an inefficient player but his energy and work rate covered up some of his weaknesses in a team system.
Then Andre Gomes became fit and Davies vanished. When Gomes was brought in on loan we all knew that if he could find his old Valencia form this was inevitable - he is a player who just oozes quality. More specifically, he plays a much tidier game than Davies does, and is a better dribbler. That ball carrying is essential when the less mobile Gylfi Sigurdsson is at the ten.
So here are some numbers that Gomes has produced that are worth noticing, specifically in how they differentiate from Tom Davies playing a similar role in the same system. First, let’s talk about dribbles. Davies, to his credit, is a dramatically improved dribbler so far this season, completing 71% of his dribbles as opposed to 50% last season. Gomes, however, completes 86% of his dribbles at a similar volume. Gomes was never this efficient in Spain, and a lot of credit on both players’ improvement can be attributed to the management and tactics of Marco Silva.
Early this season Tom Davies was losing possession 2.1 times per 90 minutes played. This, again, is a dramatic improvement from what we saw from him last season (when he averaged 5.5 per 90!) Gomes loses possession 3.3 times per 90. But wait a minute, didn’t we say that Gomes was the tidier player? How can this be if he loses the ball more? The answer is found in volume of touches. Yes Gomes loses the ball more, but he also has the ball more. He has been relied on for 54.5 passes per 90 minutes, Davies has 47. Gomes also hits more long balls, essentially, he’s being asked to do more than Davies was.
For another example, take a look at these heat maps from each player. This first map is from Andre Gomes against Chelsea, where he accounted for 9% of Everton’s overall touches of the ball.
This next map is Gomes against Brighton where he accounted for nearly 12% of Everton’s total touches. Regardless of whether Everton has the majority of the possession or not, Gomes is a central fixture in everything we do, and can be found all over the pitch.
Now let’s look at Davies against similar sides. Here is Davies against Arsenal. Like Gomes he accounts for about 9% of the teams touches, However, look at his positioning. He is pushed to one side far more and hasn’t spent as much time in the defensive box as Gomes did. Gomes was central to our battle for the middle of the pitch against Chelsea. Davies was pushed out to the side against Arsenal. Retaining possession of the ball is much more difficult in the center of the pitch. Silva, wisely, had his less talented player play wider to alleviate the pressure on him.
Now let’s look at Davies in Everton’s battering of Fulham. Davies’ involvement actually didn’t go up when his team had the majority of possession (unlike Gomes), it actually stayed about the same, right around 9% (in fact it was a few fractions of a percent lower). This is a little surprising. We would expect the defender’s portion of the touches to go up when the team has less of the ball, and for those touches to move to the feet of the midfielders in a game where we have more possession, but Davies did not benefit from that.
Davies did cover a far more balanced area of ground against the lesser opposition, not being forced out wide. We don’t see him acting as a central hub for possession like Gomes did against Brighton, more about that below.
Tom Davies and Andre Gomes have put together similar efficiency statistics this season. The key differences is that Gomes has put out these numbers while being asked to do more. Marco Silva seems to feel he has more tactical flexibility with the more experienced Gomes in the side. Having Davies as a backup with the kind of numbers he is producing in Silva’s system is incredibly useful, and having Gomes to start in that role gives us a chance to compete for a top six or seven slot in the English Premier League.