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Numbers Never Lie: Idrissa Gueye Is Everton’s Best Player

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He’s everything you could want from a defensive midfielder and then some.

Southampton FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

It seems like every time Idrissa Gueye comes up in a group of Everton fans, there are criticisms of his passing, references to him being ‘one dimensional’ and overall there seems to be a massive question mark towards his ability to anchor a successful midfield, despite the wonderful season he’s having.

In response to this, I decided to do a deep dive into some of his recent league performances to unlock exactly what his game is about and whether questions about his passing ability are valid.

First things first, here are some overall stats from Gana’s season:

Idrissa Gueye

Pass % Long ball % Tackle % Dribble % Defensive actions/90 Passes/90 Long balls/90 Dribbles/90
Pass % Long ball % Tackle % Dribble % Defensive actions/90 Passes/90 Long balls/90 Dribbles/90
84.1 59% 80% 88% 7 55.7 5.4 0.8
Stats via Whoscored

I am a big fan of percentage based stats. It is one thing to tell me that Gana averages over four tackles a game, but if he were not completing a high percentage of his tackles then that raw volume would not be worth much.

What really jumps off the page with Gana’s stats is his self awareness. He does not attempt dribbles he cannot complete, and he does not attempt tackles he cannot finish. He attempts reasonable long balls, and completes a high percentage of his passes. This is a player who understands his own ability.

For the purposes of this article, all the performances I have selected have been from 2019, so that we can be as current as possible in our analysis. We will include StatsZone images that describe every action he took in these games and discuss their significance.

A legend explaining each icon on these maps can be found at the bottom of the article. First, let’s start with his most recent game against Watford:

Statszone

Gana completed 41 of his 49 passes, including 6 of the 8 long balls he attempted. For context, Paul Pogba averages about 5.4 accurate long balls per 90 (out of 8 attempted), so Gueye’s long ball performance here is very impressive.

Against Watford, Gana completed 8 tackles, 2 interceptions, and had 3 clearances with 4 dribbles, too. In an Everton match without many superlatives, Gueye was absolutely imperious in the middle of the pitch, and remarkably, I specifically encountered criticisms of his passing after this game from various sections of the interwebs.

Next, I want to look at the Leicester match because it was such a remarkable outlier for Gana.

Statszone

I have major, major questions about how a manager creates a game plan where his defensive midfielder passes the ball 95 times in one match. For context, Luka Modric is a possession heavy Ballon D’or winning central midfielder, and he only passes the ball 66 times per 90.

Nevertheless, Gana acquitted himself fairly well against the Foxes, completing 74% of his passes. Yes, this is below his average, but from an Everton perspective, it’s about 6.5% higher than Tom Davies had on just 40 passes against Watford.

In addition to the tremendous volume of passes, Gueye completed 6 long balls (out of 12 attempted), which again, is tremendous volume for someone whose primary job is defensive work.

Despite being asked to do a wide variety of things a ball-winning #6 should not be asked to do, the ‘one dimensional’ Gana still turned in a solid performance with seven defensive actions and zero times dispossessed.

Now I want to show you what a low output passing game from Gana looks like. Against Bournemouth, he only attempted 39 passes while accumulating 8 defensive actions, including a clearance.

Statszone

Instinctively, this low output and the fact that at least a third of these passes are more or less traveling backwards would tell us that this is one of those ‘one dimensional’ Gana games, right? Yet here is Gueye, as a central player, with a successful cross into the box, 3/5 long balls completed, and only dispossessed one time all match. Four of his defensive interventions happened in the box.

As always, Idrissa Gueye is doing what he needs to do, what he’s been asked to do, and no more. His satisfaction with doing whatever the team needs from him that particular night has incredible value in itself.

To be levy any valid criticisms of what Idrissa Gueye brings to the table, you would have to be opposed to the entire notion of a destroyer defensive midfielder. If that is you, fine, but understand this same style of player has been a crucial cog to the last three Champions League titles at Real Madrid (Casemiro) and two of the last three English Premier League titles (N’Golo Kante). He compares decently well as a passer with both players, despite not having as much help in midfield, nor having anywhere near as much acclaim for his ability.

Idrissa Gueye is better than Andre Gomes, he’s better than Tom Davies, and he’s obviously better than James McCarthy and Morgan Schneiderlin. No one else is as good at what they specialize in, while also being able to carry a substantial load in the passing game.

Among regular starters, Gana is third on the team in passing percentage and first in pass attempts per 90. No, he is not the Blues’ most incisive or creative passer, but he is not supposed to be.

Gueye is Everton’s deepest lying midfielder and it would be unreasonable to expect him to consistently win the ball back at one end and put in a final ball at the other. He switches play well (the main source of his long ball numbers), recycles possession, and gets the ball to Gomes, Lucas Digne, and Seamus Coleman, whose jobs it is to carry it up field.

This is all that could be reasonably expected from our defensive midfielder. It is high time Idrissa Gueye got the respect he deserves from fans and media alike. He is Everton’s best midfielder, and arguably their best player, period.


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