Gylfi Sigurdsson’s knee injury is a cherry on top of the poop sundae that has been Everton’s 2017-18 season. It likely ends Everton’s chances at finishing 7th for good - if they weren’t dead already - and also puts the Icelandic playmaker’s opportunity to play in a World Cup in jeopardy.
In short, it sucks. Sigurdsson has done reasonably well this season despite being handicapped at nearly every turn. That being said, there are a variety of players on the Blues’ roster who now may have a chance to prove themselves to the club coming down the stretch. Let’s take a look.
Unless you’ve spent the last three months living under a rock, you surely expected Davy Klaassen to be the first name on the list.
The Dutch midfielder has been the lingering reminder of Ronald Koeman’s failed transfer strategy and season-opening tactics, with the team long after the manager was let go. After playing 189 minutes over the first six weeks of the season, Klaassen made the bench in matchweeks seven, eight, and nine, and then didn’t appear in a Premier League matchday 18 until his appearance off the bench this week.
His six minutes on Saturday were his first competitive minutes in any competition for Everton since December 7.
It’s still a little unclear what the former Ajax captain’s best position is — is he more of a 10, or a box-to-box midfielder? Either way, Sigurdsson’s absence opens up a spot in the center of midfield, and affords Klaassen a chance he otherwise may not have had. If I had to guess, he’ll get a few looks in a more advanced role, either as a No. 10 or as an advanced No. 8 alongside Tom Davies.
The Toffees have relied on Sigurdsson for both goals and assists this season (he has six and five, respectively), and Klaassen brought both to Ajax last season — he had 20 goals and 12 assists in 50 matches across all competitions. Can he finally translate that to his new club?
If he’s given a chance and fails the rest of the season, it’s hard to see a way back for him at Everton Football Club.
Yannick Bolasie operates in a strange space at Everton. He’s become something of a fan favorite due to his personality off the pitch and his flair on it — but his actual footballing impact on the club is still somewhat in question.
The Congolese winger had a goal and four assists in 13 matches last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury — a solid return over a limited span. He only returned from that injury on December 26, and his chances since then have been limited. Is that a case of Sam Allardyce not giving explosive players chances (something he’s been guilty of frequently this season), or is Yala really not a strong enough contributor at this point?
Part of what kept Bolasie on the bench was the presence of Sigurdsson, who was often shuffled out to the left wing to make room for Wayne Rooney in the center. With Sigurdsson out, there’s no real competition at left wing anymore, almost assuring Yala gets a real chance to prove himself before the season comes to a close.
It’s important to note that he’s now got a healthy Leighton Baines to partner with on the left, and a striker in Cenk Tosun with size and reasonable technical ability to whip balls into the box toward. If he cannot succeed in this stretch of matches, the Toffees may seriously have to consider investing in a new winger to replace him this offseason.
Like Bolasie, Morgan Schneiderlin doesn’t play in Sigurdsson’s preferred position, but the Icelander’s absence creates a ripple effect that could thrust him into a more regular role.
At his best, Schneiderlin is a “first name on the teamsheet” type of player, but we’ve just not seen that guy enough this season, and his playing time has disintegrated as a result. After spending the entirety of the Watford and Burnley matches on the bench, the Frenchman didn’t even make the squad for Saturday’s win against Brighton.
But Sigurdsson’s injury could well force Tom Davies and Wayne Rooney into a more advanced role, potentially creating a spot for him as a holding midfielder in the starting XI. There’s no doubt Everton needs a player like Schneiderlin — the backline needs a reliable shield, and the attackers need a player who can spring the transition from defense to offense.
Schneiderlin has been that player in the past, but he needs to prove again that he can be that player in the future as well. Otherwise, it may be time to begin the Beni Baningime era in the center of midfield, or look for another No. 6 to add over the summer.
Tom Davies has gotten his fair share of chances in the last two months, and it's been a pretty mixed bag for him.
There have been man of the match performances, but there have also been matches in which he deserved to be taken off at halftime. He's got energy and the occasional attacking flair, but his discipline and defensive decision making are often suspect.
With Gylfi out, Davies may get a regular run of games, in which he could prove he has the consistency that has largely lacked in his young career. Unlike the other guys on this list, this opportunity doesn't represent a last chance at Everton, but it could speed his progression along substantially.
Every time I have to write about Wayne Rooney, I never know quite what to say.
He leads the team in goals — but largely as a result of the questionable decision to have him take penalties, a duty which he has now been relieved from after another miss over the weekend.
His passing performances have been hit or miss. Against teams like Brighton, Rooney is able to pull strings from deeper in the midfield when afforded time on the ball. Against teams from the upper end of the table, though, Wayne’s old legs and penchant for turnovers usually sees Everton’s midfield overrun.
Either way, it seems clear that Rooney has at least done enough to merit some sort of role moving forward, and the remaining games in this campaign represent a chance to prove to Sam Allardyce - and possibly a new manager next season - just what kind of role that should be.
In no particular order, those are the five players we think have the most to prove if there is to be an extended absence for Gylfi Sigurdsson. Should Nikola Vlasic be on the list? Someone else? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.