The early reviews on the Fabian Delph transfer — somewhat to my surprise — have been largely positive. Both Everton supporters and pundits alike seem to realize that he brings a level of depth, stability, and experience to the center of midfield (and left-back, in an emergency) that overall improves the Everton squad.
Moves like this one don’t shake your club to the core, but they help you slowly build in the right direction.
The thing about a transfer like this one, though, is that you generally make it because the players currently on the squad in depth positions aren’t good enough to move the club toward its goals — in Everton’s case, a top-six finish. The uncomfortable truth in this situation is that the existing Everton player most obviously displaced by Delph’s arrival is fan-favorite, Academy-grown, fashion icon and social-media star Tom Davies.
With the preferred midfield duo of Idrissa Gueye and Andre Gomes, and Fabian Delph now the most natural cover for both players (not to mention that Morgan Schneiderlin was already preferred to Davies as cover for the suspended Gomes at the end of the 2018-19 season), there’s no obvious route into the starting XI for Davies barring multiple injuries.
In fact, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that as things stand, the 21-year-old won’t even find his way into the regular matchday eighteen when the season opens on August 10.
How did things reach this point? How did a player who was at one time one of the most promising players not only at Everton, but across all of England, become a part in need of replacing? And where do he, and the Blues, go from here?
Davies announced his presence at the senior level in Everton’s 4-0 victory over Manchester City in January 2017. He was named man of the match for his performance — just his second ever Premier League start — and scored that goal.
Never mind that Manchester City played a midfield four of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, and Pablo Zabaleta that day — though maybe that should have been the first sign that this moment of magic wasn’t necessarily going to be repeatable.
He bounced in and out of the starting lineup for the remainder of the Ronald Koeman era — never playing well enough to earn a permanent starting place, but never playing poor enough to warrant banishment back to the U23s.
Once Marco Silva got a healthy Andre Gomes in last season, Davies pretty much completely fell out of favor, at one point going nearly two months without a minute of Premier League action. Following the club’s embarrassing defeat to Millwall in the FA Cup (which Davies did not participate in), Silva publicly committed to giving some of his young players a chance in the upcoming weeks.
Davies subsequently started the next four matches — a 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town, followed by defeats against Wolverhampton Wanderers, City, and Watford FC. In the 11 remaining Premier League matches that followed, he played a grand total of 10 minutes.
Given that context, it’s hard to be surprised that Silva moved for midfield depth this summer. Tom’s failure to ingrain himself in Silva’s current plans can really be boiled down to two main points -
- I still don’t think Silva, Davies, or anyone else knows exactly what Tom’s best position is. He’s not creative enough to be a true No. 10, not defensively responsible or aware enough to play the box-to-box / No. 8 position, and not strong enough in possession to play as a true deep-lying No. 6. As a result, he’s floated between all three of those central midfield positions, but never been able to even really grasp the second spot on the depth chart at any of them.
- Perhaps more pertinently, it’s hard to point to any component of Davies’ game that has considerably since that breakout game against Manchester City in 2017. He’s capable of playing the occasional impressive forward pass, but his overall accuracy is far too sporadic. The youngster is not a great shooter of the ball nor particularly good at finding himself in good positions in front of goal and while he does a ton of running, but it doesn’t always come with an awareness of the proper time and place to apply pressure to the opposition.
With all that said, it’s easy to forget that Davies is only 21 years old, given that he’s played 89 matches for Everton in all competitions already. I’ve never been a huge Davies proponent myself, but this serves in no way as a statement that Everton are or necessarily should just wash their hands of him.
And yet, that possibility cannot be ruled out. He could go away on loan this season, in the hopes that consistent playing time will help to round out the rough spots in his game and identify his best position. The nature of such a loan would be unclear though.
It seems highly unlikely he’d go on a loan to a lower division given his experience, but his high-action, high-pace play-style might make him a poor fit at some of the lower-table clubs in the Premier League. Aston Villa and Bournemouth jump out to me as the most sensible Premier League loan options, but that’s entirely speculation.
Of course, Everton could also opt to sell him outright if a good offer came in. A club like West Ham United or Southampton might have more use for him off the bench than the Toffees currently do, and might be willing to take a chance on a player who could develop into something more.
Either way, it’s hard to see any path for Tom to make a real impact in the squad this year given the addition of Delph, and it’s now on Marco Silva and Marcel Brands to figure out the next step for a player once thought of as the future of the club.