Ahead of Everton’s first game since March in the Merseyside derby on June 21, we’re recapping how the Blues have fared in each area of the pitch in what’s been a pretty trying season, for the most part.
Today, we’re moving up into the pitch to the midfield, where many would argue needs the most surgery once this season is out of the way.
Midfield - recap
Just as Everton’s defence fell apart once one piece of the Jenga block was taken out of it in Kurt Zouma, so too did the midfield when the irrepressible, irreplaceable Idrissa Gueye sealed his dream £30 million move to Paris Saint-Germain in July.
Criminally underrated, Gueye was the thread that wove this Everton side together; a dynamic, tenacious, pacey ball-winner, it probably went unnoticed to some just how important the Senegalese was to the Blues until he was gone.
In his place came Jean-Philippe Gbamin, a midfielder made in a similar mould to Gueye who excelled in his three years with German club Mainz 05 before joining Everton in a £25 million deal. The Ivorian played three-quarters of the first two games of the season, during which the Blues didn’t concede a goal, and has not played since. Initially due to a thigh injury, and then an achilles problem last month, Gbamin will likely not play again until 2021.
Not only were Everton hampered by the absence of both Gueye and Gbamin, but also the lack of form and availability of the former’s 2018-19 peers in midfield. André Gomes returned on a permanent basis from Barcelona, and fluctuated between match dictator and anonymity for the first three months of the season.
Then came that horrific fractured dislocation to his right ankle, then the miraculously quick recovery by February, where he rather embarrassed his team-mates in his return at Arsenal by just how much he out-performed them that day. Gomes is not a perfect midfielder; he lacks pace and a sense of cutting edge, but he is arguably the most creative player Everton have in this department and merely his presence on the pitch seems to lift his team-mates.
The same can no longer be said for Gylfi Sigurdsson who, after 14 goals in 2018-19 and establishing himself among Marco Silva’s most cherished players, has regressed beyond belief this term. The Icelander’s previous season was still rather patchy despite a strong goal return, but he began this term looking more isolated than ever in his typical number ten role, and since turning 30 in September, his legs seem to have totally given way.
Whether deployed behind the striker, in a deeper midfield role or, on occasion, even out wide, Sigurdsson has looked a shadow of his former self (which was never that impressive, anyway) and a return of two goals and as many assists in all competitions is a damning indictment of the £45 million man’s season.
In Sigurdsson’s place at number ten, Alex Iwobi has been tried, and though the Nigerian’s £35 million transfer fee last summer still looks eye-wateringly inflated, Iwobi has looked a far better fit in this central role than he has on the wing for Everton. Though he still desperately lacks the ability to make consistently good decisions on the ball, he has at least so more often than Sigurdsson this term, and at least has legs, unlike Sigurdsson.
Elsewhere, the picture is similarly bleak. Tom Davies may go into the Merseyside derby on Sunday as Everton’s only fit senior central midfielder, but his career has continued to stall as he still grapples with his identity crisis; nobody seems to know what kind of midfielder Davies really is, or will be, not least Davies himself.
Then there’s Morgan Schneiderlin, whose commitment continues to come into question, and rightly so in some instances (the disastrous FA Cup defeat to Liverpool’s C-team stands out). But it would also be remiss to ignore the fact that the Frenchman’s form has, for the most part, picked up significantly since Carlo Ancelotti arrived in late December.
There’s talk of a move to Nice for Schneiderlin, and while Everton would be wise to shift a 30-year-old squad player reportedly earning £100,000 a week who desperately lacks pace and is out of contract next year, there are certainly others in royal blue whose departure is a more pressing matter than Schneiderlin.
And finally, Fabian Delph. What is there to say Fabian Delph? Well, aside from the Instagram arguments with fans, the petulant red card in February’s win at Watford, and the general look of disinterest he carries across the Goodison Park pitch, not a lot else, to be honest.
A two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City, Delph was signed last summer to bring a calming influence to an often chaotic team, and to impart his wisdom as a more experienced player on his younger colleagues. Though he has had a smattering of impressive performances, it’s hard to say with any certainty whether he’s ticked any of these boxes so far, in truth.
This may seem an overly negative take on what are still a group of footballers plying their trade at an elite level, the sort of which most of us can only harbour dreams of playing at, but the fact of the matter is that few of them realistically should see their long-term futures at Everton.
With that in mind, then, Ancelotti may be wise to use these nine games as the breeding ground for younger blood, rather than flogging some of these dead horses.