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Everton look to replenish youth ranks with talented Swansea duo

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Blues looking to raid Swans for Matt Grimes and Daniel James this summer

Swansea City v Manchester City - FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Marcel Brands has made it quite clear that his Everton revolution will start with bringing in young players who will develop within the club’s structure and philosophy, and to that end the latest transfer rumours bubbling up link two up-and-coming British players both plying their trade at Swansea City currently.

The Blues already have a relationship with the Welsh side following the blockbuster transfer of Gylfi Sigurdsson two summers ago for what was believed to be around £45million, and it might take another big fee to bring in the two potential stars.

First up is Matt Grimes who turns 24 this summer. The midfielder has worked his way up from Exeter City and has had an outstanding season for the Swans, and is widely considered as ‘Premier League ready’ by analysts. He has featured in 47 games for the Welsh side, scoring twice and assisting four more.

He made his breakthrough under Gareth Southgate when the current England manager was in charge of the national team youth setup, and has 16 total caps for the Under-20 and Under-21 sides.

Swansea City v Manchester City - FA Cup Quarter Final
Matt Grimes scores from the penalty spot
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

The central midfielder has been compared to England great Glenn Hoddle, but it’s his versatility that has turned most heads as he is able to line up anywhere in the middle of the park and has played in the backline as well this season.

His manager at the Swans Graham Potter added that Grimes has been arguably the best player on his side this season.

”He is an intelligent footballer who every day does his very best, he is a model professional.

”He has been fantastic, from early pre-season he showed the type of character he was, stepping in at left-back, wanting to help and do his bit for the team.

”He didn’t get disappointed when he didn’t play. He waited for his chance and he has grown and grown as the season has gone on.”

He’s making 76.9 passes per 90 minutes in the Championship this season, leading the league in players who have made over 30 appearances - the 62.8 accurate short passes per 90 is also highest, and is in the top ten for accurate long balls as well (among midfielders and forwards). Grimes also ranks respectably in successful tackles and clearances.

The eyetest on Grimes confirms what the radar says - excellent passing vision within the middle, but lacking in the creativity department going forward while not necessarily the strongest defending either. He is blessed with composure on the ball, but at this point he appears to be a younger Morgan Schneiderlin more than anything else on this squad.

While the Frenchman appears to have made a complete turnaround to his Everton career in the last few months, keeping him around for another season at least could come down to if Marcel Brands wants to have his hefty £120,000 per week on the wage bill or not, and if he thinks Grimes is ready to step into that role even on a partial basis.

Swansea v Brentford - FA Cup Fifth Round
Daniel James in action for Swansea
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The other player mentioned in the report is one that is very highly-regarded and has teams like Manchester City also interested. Daniel James is already getting labeled as the ‘next Gareth Bale’, and has already made his Wales international debut and scored within five minutes of coming on in his full debut, having played in two games so far for the senior side.

The 21-year-old speedster is lightning on the wings, and has scored five goals with nine assists in 36 appearances for the Swans this season. For many football fans who don’t follow the Championship, it was this incredible lung-bursting 80-yard goal that brought him to national prominence, but there is more to his game than just sheer pace.

James has been linked heavily with Manchester City in recent weeks, and both he and Grimes performed really well against the Sky Blues in the FA Cup quarterfinals, with City needing a controversial late penalty decision to go their way to win 3-2.

Even Pep Guardiola commended the winger -

“(Daniel) James is incredibly fast, so it’s not easy. We knew that, we spoke about it.”

Fellow Championship rivals Leeds United had made him their primary target in the 2019 January transfer window, but the move fell through late on. Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City have also been mentioned as interested in the player.

While speed is a key component of his arsenal, Potter alludes to his stamina as an important component as well -

“Dan’s not playing against bad players, they’re not physically weak defenders, but he leaves them for dust, The ability to sprint repeatedly, it’s as high a level as you’re going to see. He’s got lots to work on but he had an end product today and I thought he was sensational.”

His attacking actions map for this season shows how involved he can be in play within the box, and area that Everton often struggles to break down sides that bunker down behind the ball.

Daniel James attacking actions, Swansea City 2018-19
Image courtesy of Total Football Analysis

The Blues have done well against top six sides recently with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s pace causing backlines issues on the counterattack, and having a winger with James’ speed to move behind defence with or without the ball is a very dangerous weapon that will have Marco Silva salivating with anticipation.

The two-footed player relies on his left but has been often used on the right to cut in, a versatility that most of Everton’s current winger corps has. Like Richarlison, James often starts his own attacks in the middle of the park, setting up give-and-go type runs that catch defences flat-footed.

James is eighth among forwards with over twenty appearances in the Championship in shots per 90 minutes at 3.3, jumping up to fifth for shots in the penalty area at 2.4 per 90 min. The 0.2 goals per 90 and 0.4 assists per 90 are strong numbers, with 36.4 passes per 90 and 29.2 accurate short passes.

There is lots of room for improvement for the youngster, with shooting accuracy something that he has to work on as well other tactical nuances on either end of the pitch. An area of concern for the player is that his diminutive stature could be a problem in the physical Premier League, an issue the Blues have seen both Bernard and Ademola Lookman struggle with too.

James is on a two-year deal that expires at the end of the 2019-20 season, and word is that contract extension talks are not progressing too well. As a homegrown player he will command premium value should the Swans decide to cash in on him this summer, which they might be forced to do with their uncertain financial situation.

The young winger fits the profile that Brands likes, and with Theo Walcott’s future at the Blues uncertain could certainly reduce the squad’s average age and wage bill while injecting even more pace and skill into a side that is looking quite threatening going forward.