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Making sense of the Fabian Delph to Everton transfer rumors

It seems weird at first glance, but there might be some sense to it

Manchester City v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

UPDATE: Friday 8:30pm BST

The extremely reliable Paul Joyce not only confirms Everton interest but also adds that the Blues are very close to getting their man.

If you’re like me, the first thing you thought when you saw a rumor linking Everton to Fabian Delph was “Why?”

He’s 29, played just 20 matches in all competitions for Manchester City last year, and doesn’t really fit the mold of “young-up-and-comer” that has generally categorized Everton’s transfer targets since Marcel Brands took over.

But as I got to thinking about this in more detail — especially in relation to the points I raised last week about Andre Gomes and Idrissa Gueye — it could actually make a fair bit of sense.

Considering that this news has received the Paul Joyce stamp of approval, there even might be something substantial to the rumours.

Before you get up in arms, hear me out. First and foremost, this is not a move that would be made as a straight replacement for Gana if he departed (because PSG are always lurking). I don’t think anyone in their right mind would legitimately suspect that, but it should be made perfectly clear. Delph doesn’t cover enough ground to replace Gana, and I don’t think Brands would invest in a 29-year-old as the long-term solution at such an important position in Marco Silva’s system.

And I don’t think Delph is seen as a player who goes ahead of Gomes in the pecking order alongside Gana either — Gomes is a better presser, better dribbler, and has already formed a very good relationship with the Senegalese midfielder who is at the heart of all things Everton.

The perfect fit of Gomes and Gana in Marco Silva’s system — which is what I discussed in the post I linked above — is why I don’t think Everton needed to find a midfielder other than Gomes to fit regularly in the starting XI. That said, I closed that post with the following note:

...And can you make the argument that Everton should have another deep-lying midfielder more talented in the art of progressing the ball through a deep defensive block for matches against conservative opponents? Absolutely!

Everton at times last season struggled against deep-lying opposition. Sometimes the issue was an attempt to use players in roles that didn’t suit them — Richarlison as a main creative outlet or Dominic Calvert-Lewin as a back-to-goal striker, for instance.

But other times the issue was that Everton’s holding midfielders struggled to regularly progress the ball from back-to-front against a deep defensive block. The main culprit there wasn’t Gomes — despite protestations about his assist numbers (assists aren’t his job, people).

The issue was more Gana, who just isn’t equipped with the passing skills to work the ball through tight angles and alleys against a well-drilled defensive opponent.

Fabian Delph stats

Do you know who is a fit to do that? A guy who spent the last four seasons at Manchester City passing the ball out of the back. Take a look at his xGChain and xGBuildup numbers from 2017-18 season, the last year he played a significant number of minutes.

Fabian Delph fits the above description perfectly. He can play the holding midfield role — not bringing as much defensive solidity as Gana — but with much better ball progression skills, honed during his time under Pep Guardiola.

Fabian Delph radar

Against a team like Crystal Palace, against whom Everton struggled mightily in late-April, what would make you feel better? Delph looking to play passes to break the lines against Roy Hodgson’s side, or Gana?

Delph, who played at the most pass-heavy club in Europe last season, is the obvious choice.

So yes, he wouldn’t be a world-beater or even a regular starter — but Fabian Delph would be a valuable option to have when trying to break down deep-lying opponents, something Everton struggled with last season.

Given that he could probably come pretty cheaply from Manchester City — with the experience of multiple league titles alongside — it’s a simple move that could pay dividends in “should-win” matches next season. His wages might be an issue, but if Marcel Brands can weave some magic and offload Kevin Mirallas or Yannick Bolasie permanently, that should be no problem.