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Everton 2020/21 Season Preview: Midfielders

Has Carlo Ancelotti solved last season’s deepest problem position with three new signings?

Everton Unveil New Signing Allan
Central midfielder Allan completed his move from Napoli to Everton on Saturday
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Stats: 2020/21 Everton Central Midfielders

Player Minutes Goals Assists Tackle % (PL)
Player Minutes Goals Assists Tackle % (PL)
Tom Davies 1760' 0 1 57%
Fabian Delph 413' 0 0 71%
Abdoulaye Doucoure 2831' 3 3 64%
Jean-Philippe Gbamin 11' 0 0 100%
André Gomes 1922' 0 2 46%
Allan Marques 2211' 0 0 54%
Gylfi Sigurdsson 2967' 8 10 49%


It was more of the same from Marco Silva until his sacking. Everton almost invariably lined up in 2019-20 under the Portuguese as they did for much of the 2018-19 campaign; in a 4-2-3-1 formation revolving around a number ten and two deeper midfielders.

But the poor form of Gylfi Sigurdsson, departure of Idrissa Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain and long-term injuries to André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin meant this midfield trio never looked quite as accomplished as in Everton’s rejuvenation at the back end of 2018-19. Barring the odd switch to a 3-4-3, or the replacement of Sigurdsson with Alex Iwobi, Silva never found the answer to this conundrum before being shown the door in early December.

Everton v Preston North End - Pre-Season Friendly
Sigurdsson struggled last season and looks on the decline now
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

Silva’s tepid, stagnant setup was immediately canned by caretaker boss Duncan Ferguson, and later Carlo Ancelotti, primarily for a more combative 4-4-2. Only when plumping for 4-3-3 in the final two games of the campaign, as well as the occasional switch to the back three at the start of Ancelotti’s reign, did Everton veer from this under the Italian.

Despite 4-4-2 leaving a dreadfully insipid and jaded Everton midfield hopelessly exposed as the extended season wore on, it still paid dividends for the most part, not least by establishing the strike partnership of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. With three marquee summer recruits in the centre of the park, you would expect Ancelotti to persist with the formation which has served him well for much of his recent managerial career.

Current Players

James Rodriguez - Everton’s headline arrival so far this summer, the 29-year-old Colombian has reunited with Ancelotti for his third spell under the Italian. Rodriguez may occupy a number ten role if Ancelotti scraps 4-4-2, or potentially a place on the wing if not; either way, he offers bundles of ability which virtually no other Everton player can rival. Can he reach the heights he hit in his best year at Real Madrid, which came in 2014-15 under Ancelotti’s management?

Everton Unveil New Signing James Rodriguez
Rodriguez completed his Everton move on Monday
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Allan - a full-blooded, gnarly central midfielder who excelled under Ancelotti at Napoli, the 29-year-old should add plenty of bite in an area where Everton were so meek, so timid, for much of last season. He may not be blessed with youthful exuberance, but at £22 million, he represents a smart piece of business on paper. A man known for celebrating crunching tackles, he is imperative to Ancelotti’s revamp.

Abdoulaye Doucouré - at six feet tall, the £25 million man could be the imposing box-to-box midfielder Everton have long been crying out for. Impressive from both defensive and attacking viewpoints during much of his four years at Watford, Doucouré will be expected to orchestrate proceedings from the middle of the pitch, and his Premier League experience could be invaluable to the likes of Allan and Rodriguez around him, neither of whom have previously played in England.

André Gomes - still undoubtedly a fan favourite, but Gomes has largely not looked the same player since suffering a fractured dislocation to his right ankle against Tottenham last November. Even before then, he was struggling to recapture the form of the previous season, and with merely one goal and two assists in two years at Goodison Park, some are beginning to question what he offers. This season, he must prove the doubters wrong.

Chelsea v Everton - English Premier League
Can Gomes get back to his best this season?
Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gylfi Sigurdsson - if the jury is out on Gomes, the verdict has been unanimously returned on Sigurdsson among the Goodison faithful. Whether as a number ten, in a deeper midfield role or even out wide on occasion, the Icelander never found form in 2019-20, and now aged 31, you wonder if he ever will again. Would not be a major surprise if he leaves Goodison, though his hefty wages will be a stumbling block. Regardless, his time as an Everton regular must surely be over.

Jean-Philippe Gbamin - signed as the heir to the throne of the imperious Gueye, defensive midfielder Gbamin played three-quarters of Everton’s first two matches, in which they kept as many clean sheets. Multiple long-term injuries have meant he hasn’t played since that 1-0 home win over Watford in August 2019, and likely won’t until at least the new year. He will need to be eased back in, and Everton must hope that his setbacks haven’t left any permanent scars as they did to Bryan Oviedo and Seamus Coleman, for example.

Tom Davies - is this the season of reckoning for Davies? Perhaps, but we seem to have asked ourselves that every summer for a number of years now. Having made more than 100 first team appearances and worn the captain’s armband on multiple occasions for his boyhood club, you would assume the 22-year-old has a clear idea of what sort of midfielder he is. He doesn’t seem to. Time is running out for Davies to prove himself.

Blackpool v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
It could be make-or-break for Davies this year
Photo by Kevin Barnes - CameraSport via Getty Images

Fabian Delph - another Everton could do with jettisoning, Delph barely featured in his debut season at Goodison due both to injuries and lack of form, while doing his utmost to alienate as much of the fan base from him, it seems. Now 30, it’s hard to see some sort of renaissance any time soon. A poor signing, in hindsight.

Muhamed Besic - three loan spells since his last Everton appearance in December 2017. For the sake of all parties, a permanent departure is the best option.

Beni Baningime - likewise, a move away seems the best course of action for Baningime, who has youth on his side but could not even manage a minute of first team football post-lockdown despite Everton’s midfield being so desperately poor throughout.

State of the Position

Everton’s midfield, at least on the face of it, has been rejuvenated by three high-quality signings who may well have not batted an eyelid at the club had it not been for Ancelotti’s pulling power. Thanks to the Italian, the first few building blocks of his ‘evolution’ may have been put in place here.

With Allan and Doucouré dominating central midfield, that should also free up Gomes to focus more on what he’s best at, while allowing Gbamin to not be rushed hastily back into the fray. Rodriguez will hopefully provide class and guile, as well as end product, and while Everton will need to trim what is now a bloated, ten-man department, there’s no shortage of quality or strength in depth thanks to this trio of signings.

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