Next up in our review of the past Everton season, in which each area of the pitch will be recapped and rated, is central midfielders, featuring Gylfi Sigurdsson, André Gomes, Tom Davies, Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin.
Where do you even start with this one?
Well, perhaps by lavishing praise on Carlo Ancelotti. Because to have steered a team whose midfield was bypassed on an almost weekly basis all season to safety by early 2020 was some feat.
For almost the entire campaign, Everton’s midfield look rudderless without the insurance and dynamism of the now-departed Idrissa Gueye. Circumstances probably owed a lot to how this area of the pitch so gallingly unravelled for the Blues, but it still invariably made for a painful watch. No pace, no power, no penetration.
- Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Davies was Everton’s only midfielder to score from open play in all competitions this season - even still, they only managed one each.
- Morgan Schneiderlin left Everton in June having received more red cards for the club (3) than he scored or assisted goals combined (2).
- André Gomes was the most dribbled-past player in the Premier League following its resumption in June.
- Between them, Sigurdsson, Schneiderlin, Gomes, Davies and Fabian Delph managed four goals and five assists between them in all competitions in 2019-20. By comparison, Everton’s three senior centre-backs contributed five goals and four assists.
- In July’s 1-0 loss at Tottenham, Everton’s midfielders attempted five tackles between them - three from Davies, two from Gomes and none from Sigurdsson.
- Everton did not concede a goal in the 135 minutes Jean-Philippe Gbamin, ostensibly Gueye’s replacement, featured on the pitch for them in 2019-20. They had to wait more than two months later for their next league clean sheet, October’s 2-0 win over West Ham.
Probably more by necessity than desire, Ancelotti has given too many minutes to too many undeserving midfielders. That’s not his fault, though, because he inherited this mishmash, and there isn’t a lot yet in the way of viable alternatives in this department.
Sigurdsson endured a difficult start to the season, was dropped by Marco Silva in Everton’s best early-season performance against West Ham, scored a stunner in the five minutes he spent on the pitch and was duly reinstated. Frankly, the 31-year-old appears too worn-out from season after season of constant football to be such a regular anymore, and his return on the pitch reflects that.
Everton were desperately unlucky with Gbamin, who will likely not return to action until 2021 having been sidelined for 12 months now through various injuries. Clearly undercooked, that he was rushed into action at the start of last season may not have helped matters.
But then, perhaps Silva simply felt he was desperate and that Schneiderlin, who has left for Nice, and Davies, were not trustworthy in taking on Gueye’s old role. Fabian Delph, through injury and his own poor performances, certainly hasn’t helped fill that void.
Gomes, meanwhile, was decent at best before his horrific ankle injury in November, before probably coming back a little prematurely again in a case of ‘needs must’. Yet in the 4-4-2 Ancelotti has often opted for, he and his midfield partner often look exposed and swamped. All in all, it has made for grim viewing from virtually the first minute.
Patently, midfield will be Everton’s top priority this summer. They need a more vibrant, attacking midfielder to replace Sigurdsson, potentially another linchpin in Gueye’s mould if Gbamin cannot be relied upon to stay fit, and probably one or two more if Ancelotti decides Delph and Davies are not good enough, either.
Getting Schneiderlin swiftly out of the door in June was a positive first step, but Everton’s midfield does not need just a little fine-tuning. It needs an entire overhaul, and ripping it up and starting again won’t be easy for Ancelotti and Marcel Brands given the time constraints of this summer.
Grade: F (Fail)
Not one of Everton’s midfielders can look back on their own individual campaigns fondly. Whether they were sluggish or non-committal on the pitch or constantly on the treatment table instead, there’s precious little in the way of positives for any of them to take from 2019-20.