2018-19 Everton Central Midfielders
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In the second half of last season, the tactics from the “2” in Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1 was pretty simple — press high, win the ball, and get it wide to the wingers and full-backs.
It is indeed simple to play that way when you have one of the best ball-winners in the world, Idrissa Gueye. But, Gana is off to PSG now, and you just don’t replace a player of his quality by slapping a player like Fabian Delph or Jean-Philippe Gbamin into his place and playing the exact same way.
No, that would probably be catastrophic for the Toffees, so I expect Marco Silva’s deep-lying midfielders to play a little deeper when not in possession, and look to keep the ball for longer, more passing-oriented possessions once it’s won.
Can that tactic work given the players at this position, as well as the positions around them? Well, I have absolutely no idea!
Around a month ago, right after Everton signed the world’s most handsome man to a permanent deal, I argued that concerns about the Portuguese midfielder’s creative numbers were misplaced, given his overall fit in the center of midfield next to Idrissa Gueye.
Well, Gana plays for PSG now so a lot of what I said in that post is outdated, if not downright moot. Presumably now asked to play less of a pressing style, the focus will be more on Gomes’ ability to progress the ball — which he’s proven to be capable of via both the pass and the dribble at times in his career.
His progression numbers at Everton last season aren’t great, but I suspect that’s a byproduct of the style Silva was playing, rather than specific shortcomings of Gomes. Without a doubt, he’s a player with talent — but how he copes with adjusting to life without Gana could be a major factor in the opening third of the season.
I know I said it in the opening, but it bears repeating — Gbamin is not a direct replacement for Idrissa Gueye, as you just can’t replace a player like Gana like-for-like.
However, that’s not to say things are hopeless or Gbamin isn’t a quality player! His defensive contributions at Mainz encourage me that he could be a valuable shield for the back four, and his distributive qualities are pretty clearly superior to Gana’s.
I wouldn’t expect to see him regularly integrated into the team for a few weeks given his participation at the African Cup of Nations, but expect him to be the regular starter alongside Gomes once he’s up to speed.
The French midfielder is, somewhat surprisingly, still right in the mix in the central midfield depth chart heading into the season. I’ve long been a Schneiderlin defender, but at the halfway point of last season, his departure — either in January or this summer — seemed utterly inevitable.
And yet, after a strong showing in the final few matches of last season, during which he was thrust into the starting lineup to replace a suspended Andre Gomes, Schneiderlin looks to be part of Marco Silva’s long-term plans.
He won’t be a regular starter, but he remains a useful depth piece. His defensive positioning is sound, he’s a reasonable passer of the ball, and has served capably in a ball-progressing role when properly utilized.
- Can play multiple positions
- Already accustomed to serving in a bench / rotational role
- Has winning experience at the Premier League level
He’ll likely be a Swiss-army knife for Silva. He’s capable of filling the distributive role likely to be held by Gomes, the more defensive role Gbamin will hold, and even at left-back if needed. He won’t showcase anything deeply impressive, but he’s the sort of player you need if you want to make a legitimate top-six run over the course of the grueling 38-match Premier League season.
After the Delph transfer went through, I raised a question that we still don’t quite have the answer to — what happens to Tom Davies?
Hes’s behind Delph in the depth chart for both holding midfield roles — and potentially behind Schneiderlin too. He could play in the more advanced midfield role instead, but he’s not proven to be a good enough passer to really even be an acceptable backup there.
He’s still only 21 — young enough that further improvement to his game isn’t out of the question. But he’s hardly improved from age 18 with pretty regular playing time under his belt, and it’s hard to see how much he could grow as a 5th choice player.
Baningime remains in limbo. He looks to have proven his quality enough to get out of the youth teams, but hasn’t really gotten a look from Silva in the senior team either. With Delph in, there’s even less minutes in the center of midfield to go around, so it’s hard to see any way he gets a shot this season.
State of the position
Everton has quality players at the center of midfield. Gomes has proved that he’s a Premier League capable player, Gbamin comes with a decent resume from Germany, and Delph was good enough to play for the league champions 20 times in all competitions last season.
Throw in Schneiderlin and whomever remains of the likes of Davies and McCarthy, and there’s acceptable depth at the position as well. The question at center midfield for Everton this season isn’t really about the talent, it’s about the fit.
With Idrissa Gueye in the lineup, the midfield knew what it was — a pressing machine — and Marco Silva encouraged it to be as such. With him gone, what will it be? More possession-based?
And will Gomes and Gbamin fit together as nicely as Gana and Gomes did? How long will it take for that partnership to come together — and now long will it take for Gbamin to get integrated in general?
The answers to these questions may be among the primary determinants of Everton’s overall success in 2019-20.