Nearly every forward pass Andre Gomes attempted didn’t come off — and that doesn’t even include the number of times he was dispossessed on the dribble.
When Gomes first broke into the Everton lineup in October, he was a revelation. Everton still had its issues progressing the ball from back to front, but Gomes was able to at least minimize those issues, and give his side a chance to regularly get into the attack.
If you’ve been watching Everton for the past few weeks though, you know full well that Saturday’s match against Southampton was not the first in which Gomes struggled. He’s look utterly exhausted since the January 1 fixture against Leicester City — since which he’s 197 of a possible 270 minutes in all competitions.
So while it was disappointing to see him struggle so mightily this weekend, you certainly could not claim that it was surprising. In three months, Gomes has played more football than he did all of last season at Barcelona, and you can see that the physical effects of that much action are taking a toll on him.
Marco Silva noticed too...eventually. But by the time he brought Dominic Calvert-Lewin on for the Portuguese midfielder, the Toffees were already down 1-0 and clearly lacking any real confidence that a comeback could be mounted (another increasingly serious issue for another day).
You can blame Gomes’ conditioning or Silva’s use of Gomes for his clear fatigue issue at this stage of the season — I don’t really care which narrative you find more appealing. But it’s clear that Silva should have already given the midfielder a break, rather than trotting him out to fail.
The frustrating part of all this, for me, is that Silva does have alternatives — both in terms of personnel and tactics. But instead of pursuing those, Marco once again went with the comfortable and familiar, rather than addressing a developing issue before it cost Everton a match.
His refusal to do so has me genuinely concerned about his approach, as well as that of Marcel Brands. Allow me to explain.
At the start of the season, it looked as though Silva’s plan was to utilize Morgan Schneiderlin in the deep-lying, distributive midfield role alongside Idrissa Gueye. I know there isn’t a ton of love for Schneiderlin in a lot of corners of the internet, but it sure as hell seemed like Silva conceived to feature him prominently in his plans.
The Andre Gomes loan deal came as something of a last-minute development — a high-reward, low-risk move that served to potentially amplify the midfield if the player could shake off the demons he discovered at Barcelona.
Yet now, with Gomes struggling, Morgan Schneiderlin can’t even make the match-day 18 ahead of Tom Davies. Davies, as well as James McCarthy, is not cut out to play the role that Gomes does.
The only other internal option for this position is likely Beni Baningime — who impressed in very limited opportunities last season. He was injured at the start of this season, and then...fell off the face of the earth. It’s become something of a game in the RBM Slack channel to find pictures of Baningime in training, because he isn’t playing at either the youth or senior level, and no one seems to be talking about him.
If Silva doesn’t think either of those players can fill Gomes’ role in the midfield, that’s fine.
But then, what in the world is Everton doing in terms of its transfer policy?
Did Marco Silva and Marcel Brands genuinely look at a perceived hole in the midfield over the summer and think, “Boy, we really don’t have anyone who can progress the ball. Let’s go out and get a midfielder from Barcelona on loan — a player who hasn’t played good football in two years or more, who barely played last season, and let’s make him the focal point of our midfield with absolutely no cover for him.”
If Silva truly doesn’t rate Schneiderlin or Baningime, that’s basically the conversation that must have taken place.
My other frustration is more of an overtly tactical one — and a pretty simple one at that.
If a team is struggling to move the ball through the midfield, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that at some point, they’re probably going to have to resort to launching long balls forward.
No one wants to see Everton become a team that launches dozens of long balls forward every game, but it has to at least be part of the club’s arsenal if it decides that there’s only one ball-progressing midfielder in the squad.
And that did happen at times against Southampton — Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma were forced to just blast balls forward because it was simply the only option for getting the ball toward the attacking third.
So, you’d suspect that Everton would want to have a legitimate striker to whom those long balls could be directed. If only Everton had a six-foot-two, six-pack-having, youth-award-winning striker who could be that guy.
Look, we knew going into the season that Everton remains something of a project — and that’s fine. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
But such basic failings in terms of squad makeup, personnel selection, and tactics are deeply troubling, especially as we find ourselves past the halfway point of the Premier League season.
Andre Gomes very clearly needs a break, but I’m just not sure that Marco Silva has any idea what he will do without the Portuguese midfielder — and I fear that his usage could get worse before it gets better.
If that continues to be the case, don’t expect Everton to pick up more positive results any time soon.