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Q&A: What will Abdoulaye Doucouré bring to Everton?

Watford fan and writer Adam Drury on what the former Hornets midfielder will offer Carlo Ancelotti’s side

Everton FC

Everton’s midfield continued to take shape as Abdoulaye Doucouré joined the club from Watford FC on Tuesday.

The Frenchman has signed a four-year deal at Everton, who reportedly paid in the region of £20-25 million for his services. He leaves Watford after 17 goals in 141 appearances for the Championship club.

Everton rekindled their interest in Doucouré after a reported £35 million bid was rejected by Watford last summer, but the Hornets’ relegation in July shifted the goalposts considerably and the box-to-box midfielder’s price tag subsequently dropped.

Following his signing, we spoke to sports writer for Betway and Hornets fan, Adam Drury, on what Everton will be getting from their latest recruit:

RBM: Firstly, Watford seemed to often played with a midfield three, but Doucouré was pushed noticeably further forward, at least at the start of Nigel Pearson’s reign last term. Where is his best position?

Adam: The team as a whole responded well to Pearson’s appointment and Doucouré was no different. In theory, that advanced position suits him as he loves to press opposition defences and attack the box.

But as that initial burst of good form evaporated, so did Doucouré’s. He doesn’t have the mercurial ability to play as a number ten, and the team’s confidence and mentality was shattered to the extent that his wastefulness in possession became a big issue.

He was always at his best for Watford as an all-action midfielder, eating up the ground and acting as the centre of gravity for the team. Playing in a midfield two next to Nathaniel Chalobah, and then Etienne Capoue, suited him best.

Watford FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Pearson initially moved Doucouré further forward in December and January
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

RBM: Given Carlo Ancelotti has almost invariably opted for a 4-4-2 at Everton, do you think this different system would still suit Doucouré, or did he benefit most at Watford from the protection of a third midfielder?

Adam: Doucouré performed excellently in a 4-4-2 under Javi Gracia in the 2018-19 season. It certainly suits him well if he is playing alongside somebody with good positional discipline, allowing him to dominate the pitch; that was Capoue for Watford, and I assume will be Allan for Everton.

There isn’t too much danger of being overrun in midfield with Doucouré in the side. At his best he is everywhere, recovering the ball on the edge of his own box one minute and making a run into the other the next.

That said, his best season for Watford (2017-18) was when Marco Silva and then Gracia used a 4-2-3-1 shape more often than not, so there should be no issue if Carlo Ancelotti switches things up.

RBM: What are Doucouré’s biggest strengths and weaknesses as a midfielder?

Adam: For two seasons, Doucouré was virtually flawless in midfield as the team gravitated around him. He was rarely more than 20 yards away from the play, anywhere on the field, due to his energy and ability to cover ground so quickly. You can tell that he’s up with the play because he is always the first to celebrate with a goalscorer.

His ability to recover the ball and set the team on its way was probably his best attribute, but he was also an orchestrator in midfield and is always a decent bet to pop up in the box and grab a few goals. If he recaptures his best form, he should score seven or eight for Everton this season.

There are weaknesses, though, and we saw the worst of them last season. His technical ability is fragile and can desert him totally at times. By the end of last season, he’d lost his way completely and was often responsible for attacks falling down as he dithered in possession and misplaced passes, though that was partly down to playing in that advanced role. I hope this move sharpens him up again because he’s outstanding in full flow.

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Doucouré scored against Everton in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park in December 2018
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

RBM: Watford were relegated last season - did you see a significant decline in performance levels or application from Doucouré at any stage?

Adam: As discussed, his performance levels dipped alarmingly last season, but I don’t think his attitude or desire was ever in question. His distance-covered numbers were always high, and his body language suggested that he was frustrated rather than disinterested.

He was understandably keen to leave the club this summer, and is reportedly particularly excited to work with Ancelotti, but nobody at Watford blames him for relegation or begrudges him the move.

RBM: Costing a reported fee of up to £25 million, do you think Doucouré represents good value for money for Everton?

Adam: Yes - this seems to be a deal that suits everybody. Watford will regret not selling him a year or two ago when they could have received £40-50 million, but in this market - taking into account COVID-19 and Watford’s relegation - £20-25 million is a decent fee.

The only doubt for Everton is whether Doucouré’s downward trajectory is permanent, but he is only 27 and has a strong track record, so I think it’s worth paying that money to find out.

Our thanks to Adam for his time.