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Everton Season Review: Defensive Midfielders

Taking a look back at how the holding midfielders performed this season.

Huddersfield Town v Everton - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2017-18 Everton Season Review. Unfortunately, an autopsy is required before we can truly bury this year. Next up, the defensive midfielders.

2017-18 Everton Defensive Midfielder Performance

Player Minutes Goals Assists Pass Pct Tkl+Int/90
Player Minutes Goals Assists Pass Pct Tkl+Int/90
Morgan Schneiderlin 2905 0 0 84.4 6.6
Idrissa Gueye 3133 3 1 85 7.6
Tom Davies 2484 2 2 78 2.6
Beni Baningime 552 0 0 82 2.6

Morgan Schneiderlin

Performance: Easily the most criticized player at Everton this year, Morgan Schneiderlin had an interesting campaign. He was outstanding after signing from Manchester United last season, and looked to be a lynchpin coming into 2017-18.

However, he got off to a terrible start to the season – even worse than most of his struggling teammates. Ultimately, he got benched near the end of the Ronald Koeman era, and even was part of an altercation with David Unsworth’s staff during the interim manager’s reign.

At his worst, he was ill-disciplined, poor on the ball, and defensively lax.

After a long period on the sidelines though, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s injury opened up a spot in the center of midfield, and the Frenchman grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Paired with Idrissa Gueye and given a coherent (if utterly boring and infuriating) tactical plan, Schneiderlin spent the last two months of the season looking like his old self.

Future Outlook: If you asked about Schneiderlin’s future two months ago, I would have said pretty immediately that I expected him to be sold. But, he looked engaged and committed to the cause for the most part down the final stretch of the season – and he’s a damn good deep-lying midfielder when he’s on his game.

Provided his attitude is right, he should continue to pair with Gana in the center of midfield, giving the Toffees a core that’s easily better than any other non-top six team.

Grade: C-. Schneiderlin was set up to fail at the start of the season. Koeman’s incoherent tactics put him in impossible spots, and he struggled as a result. But his attitude through that period was unacceptable, and made a bad situation worse.

He turned things around with strong performances at the end of the year, but he’s still got work to do to get back in the Goodison faithful’s good graces.

Idrissa Gueye

Performance: I was a little concerned that we might see a regression from Gana after his outstanding debut season at Everton, but the Senegalese midfielder may have even improved this season, though it was tough to tell at times given the team’s overall poor performance.

We know Gueye is an elite ball-winner, capable of wreaking havoc on opposing midfielders – and that’s still easily his best role. But with Schneiderlin’s struggles this season, we saw Gana often play a deeper, more distributive role. I was very hesitant about that move, but he honestly acquitted himself pretty well.

There’s no doubt that he’s at his best when he is paired with a true No. 6 like Schneiderlin, but he displayed a clear improvement in his distribution this season, and that makes him an even more dangerous weapon in all situations.

Future Outlook: Gana remains an everyday player for Everton. It should be as a box-to-box midfielder, rather than a strictly holding role – and hopefully Schneiderlin’s renaissance will ensure that going forward – but Gueye simply has to have a place in the lineup.

Grade: A. Steve Walsh may have departed Everton earlier this summer with a checkered final transfer record, but he absolutely got Idrissa Gueye right. He remains an integral part of the club going forward.

Everton v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Tom Davies

Performance: In the simplest terms, Tom Davies’ 2017-18 season was utterly unremarkable.

He got his fair share of chances to play, with Wayne Rooney aging, Gylfi Sigurdsson out wide and then injured, and Morgan Schneiderlin often struggling. When he got those chances, he was rarely poor, but rarely impressive either. He simply…was.

Most significantly, he didn’t appear to improve his game in any discernible way – a troubling trend for a soon-to-be 20-year-old midfielder. Yes, his work rate is as impressive as ever, but his distribution remains questionable, his shooting erratic, and his defensive discipline suspect, none of which is unfixable – but we’d have said the same of him a year ago.

Future Outlook: Davies proved this year not to be a No. 10, and he’s certainly not a deep-lying midfielder either. That leaves his role in the foreseeable future as the backup to Gana.

Grade: C. In terms of raw performance, Davies was about as average as it comes for a player with his experience and skillset. But, he’s got a long way to go to be a regular first team player at Everton, and he didn’t shorten that gap this season.

Beni Baningime

Performance: David Unsworth didn’t get much right during his time in charge of the senior team, but moving Beni Baningime in with the big boys might be his most impactful legacy. He displayed composure beyond his years, reasonable distributive ability, and a decent mind for defensive tactics.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get much of a chance after Sam Allardyce took over, with a few substitute appearances comprising the second half of his season.

Future Outlook: He could play as a box-to-box or deep-lying midfielder, but he looked closer to a No. 6 than a No. 8 in his limited playing time this season. Given that the club has no obvious backup to Morgan Schneiderlin in the deep-lying role, and two pretty clear backups in the box-to-box role (Davies and Davy Klaassen, whose season review you’ll find in the attacking midfielders review next week), I’d expect we see more of him in the more defensive role.

That works just fine for me, as I think that’s more his natural role anyway.

Grade: Incomplete. I’m really high on Beni Baningime, in case you haven’t noticed. But, he just didn’t play enough minutes to get a real grade for his performance this season. But, look out, because next season could be the one in which he really makes a name for himself.