We continue our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. Next up: the central midfielders.
In the report card for Everton’s central midfielders last season, I gave the entire department a collective F-grade. So poor were the Blues at dictating and controlling the play in middle of the park, it was hard to justify scoring them any higher.
This season, there were new faces in Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré, as well as the hope of the now-departed Carlo Ancelotti elevating the performance levels of some of the waning midfielders he inherited.
How did they get on? Let’s take a look:
Appearances - 26, Goals - 0, Assists - 0, Yellow Cards - 7, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.04
Following Ancelotti from Napoli to Everton was tough-tackling Brazilian Allan, who moved to Merseyside in September to add some much-needed bite to what was a soft touch of a midfield for much of 2019-20.
It was an impressive first season for Allan, with none of his Everton team-mates exceeding his 80 Premier League tackles this term, but there was a sense that he never quite regained his blistering form at the start of his campaign once he returned from a hamstring injury in March.
It was a setback which kept him out for two-and-a-half months, and without him, Everton really lacked that extra steel he invariably provided in this department.
At 30, he isn’t exactly one for the future, and may be a candidate for a departure this summer given Ancelotti was likely a primary reason for him joining Everton.
If he is to remain at Goodison Park, though, there is the sense that he’d suit a more advanced midfield position rather than the deep-lying holding role he often fulfilled; Allan was excellent at driving Everton up the pitch and as a ‘number eight’ rather than a ‘number six,’ you sense this would make better use of his talents.
A solid first season in English football, nonetheless.
Grade - B+
Appearances - 34, Goals - 3, Assists - 3, Yellow Cards - 6, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.18
Another vital summer addition, Frenchman Doucouré arrived four days after Allan and similarly made a strong first impression, injecting real dynamism into Everton’s midfield as they set the pace in the early weeks of the Premier League campaign.
Again, though, as the season wore on, Doucouré became stricken by injury, and a toe problem sustained in March kept him out for more than two months - which, coincidentally, saw Everton’s form tail off in his absence.
Given his decent scoring record at previous club Watford, some may have expected more than two goals and three assists in the league, but Doucouré was undoubtedly a stand-out for the way he drove Everton on almost single-handedly; at times, you realised his importance to the side more when he wasn’t playing than when he was.
Everton could do with a few more in his mould.
Grade - B+
Appearances - 30, Goals - 0, Assists - 1, Yellow Cards - 3, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.07
Often a lightning rod for criticism from Evertonians, boyhood Blue Davies was one of the club’s most-improved players this term, thriving in what seems his natural home as the deepest midfielder.
Particularly impressive during the middle period of the season, Davies was integral in Everton’s Boxing Day win at Sheffield United, offered much-needed protection in surviving an onslaught against Leicester in January’s draw with the Foxes, and was outstanding in February’s 3-3 frenzy at Manchester United, man-marking Bruno Fernandes (his goal aside) superbly and helping set up Everton’s first goal, too.
Again, niggling injuries meant Davies was in and out of the side in the latter stage of the campaign, but this has certainly been the 22-year-old’s most promising season yet; certainly since his breakout year in 2016-17, anyway.
He thrived under Ancelotti at times, but the task now is to maintain his form without the Italian by his side.
Grade - B
Appearances - 44, Goals - 8, Assists - 10, Yellow Cards - 3, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.45
A strange season for Sigurdsson. Having been among Everton’s worst performers in 2019-20, a return this term of eight goals and ten assists should point to a vast improvement from the Icelander.
And in many ways, it does; Sigurdsson often chipped in, either as provider or finisher, and was far less peripheral in matches than he regularly was last term. But at the same time, you still feel his days of being an Everton starter should probably be behind the 31-year-old now.
Indeed, only five Everton players clocked in more minutes than Sigurdsson’s 2,967 this season, while none of his team-mates made more appearances than his 44. He deserves credit for such an surge in his goal and assist tallies, but could still sometimes appear too slow, too ponderous, too ineffective.
There can still be a place at Everton for Sigurdsson beyond this season, but if they are to mount a more sustained challenge for European football, that place is likely to be more regularly on the bench.
Grade - B
Appearances - 32, Goals - 0, Assists - 2, Yellow Cards - 4, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.08
Poor André Gomes. While he was hardly setting the world alight before his horrific ankle injury in November 2019, he’s just looked a shadow of himself since returning from it.
I often find Gomes bears the look of a man who’s woken up on the Goodison pitch after a gruelling night on the tiles, with no recollection as to how he got there. It’s sad to see, given how much promise he showed in his early Everton games as a Barcelona loanee, and given what an eminently lovely man he clearly is, but the more you watch him now, the more the league looks too fast for him.
He had moments this season - an excellent cross for Michael Keane’s headed winner at Wolves in January, a sumptuous diagonal in the build-up to Everton’s opener in February’s win at Leeds - but these were fleeting at best, unfortunately, and it’s hard to see how Everton progress with Gomes as a midfield mainstay.
A poor season for Gomes, who sadly just seems too sluggish and ineffectual to thrive in English football.
Grade - D
Appearances - 10, Goals - 0, Assists - 0, Yellow Cards - 2, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.03
It’s hard to judge Delph, really, other than to say that arguably his best contribution this season was at Burnley away in December, a game which saw him substituted through injury.
Half an hour had gone when Delph, deputising as a left-wing-back for the second game running, was forced off and replaced by Gomes. This sparked a formation change from Ancelotti, who proceeded to move Ben Godfrey to left-back in a 4-4-2, which he stuck with thereafter to great success as Everton went on to win their next four league games with a back line comprised entirely of central defenders almost the entire time.
Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe the perennially-injured Delph registered as many as ten appearances this season, so often did he seem to be unavailable. He was rarely, if ever, particularly poor, so perhaps a D-grade is harsh, but just contributed next to nothing.
A player who Everton could do with cutting ties with this summer.
Grade - D
Appearances - 1, Goals - 0, Assists - 0, Yellow Cards - 0, Red Cards - 0, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.00
Impossible to rate, given he once again endured a hellish season beset by injuries. Last term, Gbamin registered two appearances. This time, it was merely one outing from the bench.
Even in his only appearance, the 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace in April, Gbamin seemed understandably undercooked, and his arrival on the pitch soon saw Everton back further and further off the Eagles until their inevitable late equaliser. But it’s hard to be at all critical of Gbamin for this, given it was his first taste of football in 597 days.
Here’s hoping he comes back stronger to make his mark on Everton’s midfield next season. Truly, his is the most luckless of careers in a royal blue shirt in many years.
Grade - N/A
Without doubt a better season for Everton’s midfielders than last year, but it’s still an area of the pitch which needs a lot of retooling.
Either you have players past or not far off their park, or others who have simply run their course at Goodison. The only ones who perhaps don’t fit into either category is Davies, whose blossoming will hopefully continue next season and beyond, and Gbamin, who remains an enigma.
But the signings last summer of Allan and Doucouré set the blueprint for what Everton need with or without Ancelotti - now they have to find younger versions of them to either complement or replace them.