Transfer season — the January transfer window in particular — often brings rumors of two types.
- A player who seems like a reasonable enough fit for your team, but who the average club supporter has never heard of.
- A well-known player for whom a move to your favorite club is completely ludicrous, no matter what the rumor mill says.
And yet, this week has brought us a rumor that features a player both familiar and sensible, at least at first glance — Michy Batshuayi.
Batshuayi (whose name is very awkward to type) just had his loan at Valencia terminated prematurely, sending the Chelsea-owned player back to Stamford Bridge where presumably he remains unwanted (because hey, when you’ve got Eden Hazard playing striker, who could possibly use another striker, right?)
Everton might well be in the market for a striker, with Cenk Tosun little-used, Dominic Calvert-Lewin still developing, Richarlison not really a striker, and Oumar Niasse still Oumar Niasse (love ya, big guy).
So, it could be a mutually beneficial marriage, right?
Well, there’s the small matter of Kurt Zouma’s loan to Everton potentially standing in the way of a loan — Everton cannot have two players on loan from the same Premier League club. But Batshuayi is only 25, so a permanent deal certainly wouldn’t be off the table if Everton were interested.
Could he be the solution to the supposed Everton striker problem? Let’s take a closer look at his resume.
Michy has had among the most interesting career paths of any player in recent memory. A product of the Standard Liege youth setup, Batshuayi spent three seasons as a significant part of the Liege senior side, putting up 44 goals in 120 matches in all competitions — a decent, but not outstanding tally.
He moved to Marseille of Ligue 1 ahead of the 2014-15 season. His second year at Marseille remains his best to date — Batshuayi amassed 23 goals and 10 assists in all competitions.
That performance earned the attention of Chelsea (a.k.a. the place where promising young careers go to die), where he moved ahead of the 2016-17 season.
When he hasn’t been out on loan, he’s actually been pretty productive for the Londoners, putting up seven goals and two assists in only 563 minutes of league play — not to mention the stoppage time winner he scored in the Champions League group stage against Atletico Madrid in 2017.
Last season, Chelsea sent the Belgian striker out on loan to Borussia Dortmund in January, where Michy caught fire. He scored nine goals in just 14 appearances in all competitions for Dortmund, before an ankle injury ended his season prematurely.
He returned to Chelsea over the summer, then was loaned to Valencia in La Liga. He appeared in 23 matches for Valencia, but started only eight, scoring twice before the termination of his loan.
That brings us back to the present, with a 25-year-old striker who has 64 goals across all competitions in Europe’s top leagues somehow without a club.
So, could he be a long-term answer at striker for Everton?
Before we answer that question, let me make one thing clear — I’m not including his short tenure at Valencia in these considerations. He was not used properly in Spain, and frankly had every right to be frustrated at his usage given his resume.
When looking at the remainder of his big-league resume though — from his start at Marseille in 2014 to his injury-shortened tenure at Dortmund last season, both his regular counting stats and underlying stats are pretty good.
In domestic league play (a sample chosen because that’s what Understat.com has readily available), Batshuayi has 38 career goals and an xG of 36.61. That projects him as basically an average finisher in front of goal — reliable, but not superb.
That level of finishing has been pretty consistent throughout his career as well — he underperformed his xG by 1.58 goals in 2015-16 when he scored 17 goals for Marseille, and that’s the biggest variation of his entire in his goals-to-xG comparison.
His xG per 90 minutes in that sample size is 0.60 — also impressive, but not earth-shattering.
The only place where advanced stats tell a different story from basic ones is in his creativity. In his breakout season for Marseille, he put up 9 assists on a measly 3.36 xA. Given that he’s failed to put up more that 1.0 xA in any season since then, it seems safe to say that his assist total from that year was a fluke, and any buyers shouldn’t expect the Belgian to contribute substantially in a creative manner.
It’s also worth noting, however, that Batshuayi has also had reasonable success at the national team level, despite (and you’re not going to believe this) limited opportunities. In 16 appearances totaling just 658 minutes (five starts, 11 substitutes) since the start of World Cup 2018 qualifying, he has nine goals and one assist for the Belgian national team.
With all that said, let’s take a quick look at how Michy might fit at Everton stylistically.
Of his 108 professional club goals (that is, counting those scored for Liege and the Chelsea U23 team), Batshuayi has (per Transfermarkt.com):
- 57 right-footed
- 32 left-footed
- 9 headed
- 5 tap-in
- 4 penalty
- 1 solo run (no, I’m not entirely sure what Transfermarkt means by that, but if I didn’t include it, someone would be in the comments saying this only added up to 107.)
Those numbers more or less match what the eye test tells you about Batshuayi. He’s not particularly tall, built, or strong, and his record of headed goals matches that.
But he’s good at running the channels and finding that half-yard of space in the box the way the best strikers can — and not bad at getting the ball into the net once it finds him.
Everton’s current style of play is so cross-heavy that I have to wonder the extent to which a player with less than 10% of his professional goals with his head might make sense — but that’s a tactic I think Silva probably wants to move away from long term anyway.
In any event, Batshuayi is a well-rounded, proven striker at this level — even if Chelsea has done its best to sabotage his development. I don’t suspect that he’ll become better than we saw him at Dortmund last season — and this Everton team doesn’t have the talent that Dortmund team did.
But he’s got the potential to be a 0.5 xG per 90 — basically a goal every other game — type of player on a squad with Everton’s skill. If you can get a 25-year-old striker with that level of production, and get him on at a reasonable price and well-motivated, you do it and sort the details out later.