Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend at a local Mexican Restaurant (Los Amigos has great shrimp quesadillas if you’re ever local). As we are being seated, the tv at the bar is set to Univision and they are showing their ad for the upcoming Champion’s League match between Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow and a crystal clear close up of Nikola Vlasic followed by his name in giant letters was put alongside the big names of Real Madrid in advertising the match. Clear across the Atlantic Ocean an Everton loanee is being used to promote a Champions League clash with the three time defending champions.
It speaks to the work Vlasic has done and also to his performance (including a goal against Real Madrid in Moscow), and it caused me to want to dig a little deeper into the year he is having. So, what follows will be some performance markers from a player I think is the eventual successor to Gylfi Sigurdsson at the 10 position.
In six UCL games this season, including four against AS Roma and Real Madrid, Vlasic has three goals and two assists. Fourteen appearances in the Russian Premier League have seen another four goals and two assists. He is completing 66% of his dribbles in the league and 62% in the UCL, the latter being on 4.5 attempts per 90.
One of the things that makes Gylfi Sigurdsson so valuable is his ability to combine solid open play chance creation with elite set piece chance creation. Vlasic is not at Sigurdsson levels from set pieces, but he might be a more effective player in open play. Of his 3 key passes per 90 in the UCL, 2.1 are from open play with the rest coming from corners and set pieces. Long term, I could see Vlasic teaming with Lucas Digne on free kicks while also being a strong central hub of the offense.
Vlasic still, of course, has things to improve on. He is playing in the Russian Premier League this season for a reason. One of his shortcomings is possession loss, where he gives it up 4.6 times per 90. By comparison, Gylfi only coughs it up 3.1 times per 90 against much better competition. But even in this, much of the disparity is accounted for in the increased dribbling attempts, with Vlasic losing possession 0.6 times more per 90 than Gylfi on dribbles on 1.7 more attempts.
The Walsh era of talent accumulation at Everton is derided by many, but one of its strengths was the acquisition of good young players, of which Vlasic might have the most upside. It is my belief that he is the future of attacking midfield at Everton, and I am thrilled we have him on the books.