On one hand we have Everton Director of Football Marcel Brands saying that the Blues are unlikely to make a big transfer during this January window. On the other hand we see deficient midfield play hamstringing the Toffees this season, against top six opposition and increasingly worryingly against teams much further down the Premier League table.
So what kind of midfielder does Marco Silva’s default 4-2-3-1 formation require, and what do the Blues actually have?
Everton for the most part attack down the wings, using the fullbacks to provide overloads and create mismatches, crossing the ball into the box for late runners charging into the box. How much of this has been because of the limitations of the midfielders we do have is not clear, but what we do know is what we’ve seen so far in the first half of the season.
Idrissa Gueye remains one of the elite ballwinners in the top flight, and possibly in the top 5 European leagues as well. Even at 29, his workrate is excellent and his ankle-biting tackling makes him a coveted #6. However, he does not offer much in the attacking half when his side have the ball. Gueye’s passes are often errant and his shooting is wayward, and the Senegalese international is anything but creative with the ball.
Andre Gomes has all the characteristics of a #8 that you could want, but is often drawn out of position to support Gueye going walkabout. The midfielder certainly is better with the ball at his feet, but could use an additional outlet that a better #6 would offer.
James McCarthy and Tom Davies are energetic midfielders great at winning the ball, but once again offer little when in possession. Morgan Schneiderlin isn’t the solution for this season and this is likely his last season with the Toffees. Youngster Beni Baningime appears to be a Gueye clone, and from the limited minutes he’s played hasn’t showed any offensive prowess either.
Two midfielders in particular have been linked with Everton in the last couple of months, with interesting challenges posed for both players.
The Watford FC midfielder has been linked with the Blues a number of times, stretching back to last season. With his former manager Marco Silva now at Everton, that chatter has continue to hum on under the surface. Doucoure is certainly an upgrade over Gueye on the attacking front, and even grabbed a goal at Goodison Park earlier this month, one of three this season for him. Big and burly, he is an aerial threat too but doesn’t have the defensive solidity of Gueye.
Hornets manager Javi Gracia admits that he might have to sell Doucoure if the right bid comes along for him, but they are also holding out for a sum in the £40 million range. This is where things get interesting because Paris St. Germain are desperate to strengthen the same area that Everton are looking at, and have their eye on Doucoure as well as the Toffees’ Gueye. However, sanctions placed by UEFA on the French side following Financial Fair Play violations mean they might not be able to spend more than about £20m in January.
Tanguy Ndombele (& Houssem Aouar)
That brings us to a midfielder that is only 21 but is expected to the footballing world by storm in the next couple of years. The French are certainly spoiled with the riches they have had come through their domestic ranks in the last few years, and Ndombele might well be the next one.
Paired up with Houssem Aouar in the Olympique Lyonnais midfield, Ndombele has been very effective in a 6/8 role with more attacking leanings. While not a like-for-like replacement for Gueye, he is exactly the kind of player the Blues need to give Gomes a boost in the middle.
Aouar is being targeted by Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and just about every other top team in Europe, and it would not be surprising to see Lyon sell either or both to absolute highest bidder. Brands has already indicated that he and chief European scout Gretar Steinsson are not intimidated by big names, and nabbing one of the Lyon midfielders would be a coup of epic proportions.
Just circling back to Gomes who is on loan from Barcelona - one of the best moves Brands could make in January would be making the Portuguese pivot’s move permanent. The press report that all three parties are willing to talk after the season, but that could also be Barca trying to drive up his price as more teams are taking notice.
There is no doubt Everton need a midfielder to spark the attack while shielding the defence effectively - the concern is that the kind of player the Blues need at the position to challenge the top six is likely to be targeted by the top sides too. The Toffees will have to put together an incredible transfer package to nab a player like that, but that’s not something that commonly happens in January.