With a week off due to the international break, RBM is taking a look at where Everton stands at each position across the pitch with just seven matches to play. Who is in good standing? Who needs to prove themselves? Who are some potential transfer targets at the position — and how badly are they needed?
Today, we’re taking a look at the club’s situation at center midfield.
Coming into the season, the center of Everton’s midfield looked to be a position of strength. The club had a shiny new No. 10, brought back two outstanding defensive midfielders, bought a young up-and-comer, and possessed a promising academy starlet.
And somehow, none of that really panned out.
What went wrong for Everton at the center of the park this season? And what can we learn from the final seven matches of the season?
The Icelander spent most of his season awkwardly shuffled out wide left, but there’s no doubt he’s a natural No. 10. He was pretty successful when he was allowed to play centrally, and it seems likely that he’ll be the go-to guy there next season.
His injury likely means he’s done for the rest of the season, though, so we’ll learn little more about his status going forward.
Gana, like Sigurdsson, has picked up a knock that will have his countrymen a little worried about his World Cup hopes.
His absence doesn’t really change his status at Everton though. He’s among the first names on the team sheet, with his tireless work ethic and strong tackling frequently impressing. His distribution still isn’t spectacular, but it’s steadily improving, and gives the Toffees a little more flexibility in how he can be used.
If he’s back for the last few matches of the season, it’ll be good to see him. But, he doesn’t need to do anything more to prove his value to the club for next season.
When Everton added Wayne Rooney this summer, it was a bit of an open question as to where he would fit into the side. 31 Premier League matches later, I’m still not sure what is actual role is or should be.
Let’s start with the good. Rooney has ten goals and two assists and has proven to be among the team’s most creative players when given time on the ball.
But there’s plenty of bad too. Three of his ten goals are from the penalty spot, where he’s also missed three opportunities. He’s prone to sitting on the ball for too long while deployed in a deeper midfield role, which has caused occasional issues with turnovers and counters. Most noticeably, he simply doesn’t have the legs to do much defending.
So, what does that make him? Well, I’m not really sure. But, he’s got seven matches to prove to Everton’s next manager what he could be, particularly in the absence of Gueye and Sigurdsson.
There’s been no more frustrating player at Everton Football Club this season than Morgan Schneiderlin. He showed what he’s capable of last season — when on his game, he can be the most important player on the pitch.
But he simply hasn’t been that player this season. There’s blame to go around for that, mind you — his attitude has been poor, but none of Everton’s managers this season have exactly put him in positions to succeed regularly either.
With Gueye out for the next few matches, Schneiderlin may get an enormous chance to flip the script on his season. If he can anchor a midfield that gets positive results against Manchester City and/or Liverpool, it would be a chance to get the Goodison faithful back on his side and make a serious statement of intent to any future Everton manager.
If he fails to clear that hurdle though, it’s hard to see him back at Everton next season.
The academy product entered the season as a developing player, perceived to have a high ceiling and an unmatched work rate.
We’re now almost to the end of the season, and you’d be hard-pressed to say he’s gotten discernibly closer to that ceiling in 2017-18. He’s played plenty (37 appearances in all competitions), but is he currently any more than he was at the end of last season?
More than just a player with a lot of energy, but not much discipline or technical skill?
I don’t think you can say that he is — and he’s now got seven games to change that narrative before the end of the season. He’ll turn only 20 in June, so he’s still got plenty of time to develop. But if he wants to convince the club he should remain an important player at this early stage of his career, he’s got to do it now.
It’s hard to say much about the Dutch midfielder, largely because we’ve barely seen any of him this season. With two central midfielders out for the foreseeable future, he needs to get a chance to prove himself.
If he gets those chances and fails, then Everton will likely move on. If he does well, he could be a part of the long-term solution in the center of midfield.
If he doesn’t get any chances, serious questions need to be asked of Everton management.
I’d love for the young midfielder to get a chance before the season ends — I was very impressed by him in his brief appearances with the senior team, and think he deserves a chance.
But I also recognize that there are probably too many pressing questions in the center of midfield that need answering to justify putting him out there this season. Look for him to make a serious senior team push at the start of next season.
The Irishman suffered a pretty horrific injury that will likely keep him out past the start of next season. What that means for his Everton future, though, is still quite unclear.
There’s a fair bit of proving to be done at this position before the season ends — the outcome of which will likely inform Everton’s transfer strategy going into the summer.
If Schneiderlin, Davies, and Klaassen show well at the end of the season, the club may decide to stay out of the market for central midfielders this summer. If one or more continue to struggle, then the Toffees could be on the market for a deep-lying or box-to-box midfielder.
For better or worse, this is the obvious place to start. Wilshere could bring both creativity and steel to the center of the Everton midfield, and is set to depart Arsenal this summer.
But, can he stay healthy?
It’s been the question that’s dogged him his entire career, and recent events seem to indicate it remains a serious concern.
The 22-year-old Belgian could be a potential long-term replacement in the deep-lying midfield role — if he’s ready for that big a step up.
Dendocker plays his club football for Anderlecht, a club with which Everton already has a decent relationship following the loan of Henry Onyekuru. It’s hard to imagine that the Toffees are willing to hand the keys to the midfield over to a 22-year-old who has only ever played club football in Belgium, so it seems most likely he’d be part of a rotation.
The Croatian who plays his club football at Inter Milan has long been linked to Everton. He’s got a solid combination of technical ability and physical gifts, capable of filling multiple roles in the center of midfield.
Inter was reportedly willing to move him in January, so it seems likely that he’d still be on the market for the right price. Like the other players on this list though, his addition to Everton only makes sense if the existing players cannot prove themselves in the coming weeks.
The center of midfield still has the potential to be a place of strength for Everton going forward. We’ve seen bits and pieces of that potential this season, but not frequently enough to drag the club out of its malaise.
Some of the fringe players will get one last chance to make an impression in the coming weeks — after which club management might have to make some tough decisions.