After a relatively quite first couple of weeks of July, things are revving up in the Everton camp. Rafa Benitez is now in place and has handled a few training sessions with the Blues playing two closed-doors, preseason friendlies against Accrington Stanley and Blackburn Rovers, and it appears the manager has a good idea for where this side’s immediate needs are.
The Blues have struggled with inconsistent play from the wings for years now, and only looked like a potent attacking force when playing the 4-3-3 under Carlo Ancelotti with Richarlison and James Rodriguez flanking Dominic Calvert-Lewin up top. However, the reliance on the fullbacks to overlap and pump in crosses is something that Benitez is looking to correct with the addition of not one, not two but possibly three wingers in the coming days.
Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray are two names that came up over the weekend, with the Crystal Palace winger said to be undergoing a medical at Finch Farm today ahead of a free agent transfer for one year, with the option to add another. Similarly, negotiations with Gray are at an advanced stage with the player close to joining on a cheap £1.5 million two-year deal with an option for another year.
Now reliable Merseyside journalist Paul Joyce of the Times is adding that the Blues are also talking to Burnley for highly-rated youngster Dwight McNeil who has sparkled at times for Sean Dyche’s side.
Everton also interested in Burnley’s Dwight McNeil. https://t.co/ln4krdBwrM— paul joyce (@_pauljoyce) July 19, 2021
The 21-year-old joined the Burnley youth system after leaving the Manchester United Academy in 2014 and worked his way through the ranks before breaking through and making his first team debut at Turf Moor late in 2017-18 season.
Since then he has managed 107 appearances for the Clarets in all competitions, scoring seven times and picking up 16 assists including this worldie as they beat Everton 2-1 last season at Goodison Park.
Despite making 16 appearances for the England youth teams, McNeil can be said to have not fully realized his potential with Burnley, while admittedly he is still young and has a lot of development ahead of him. As one of the Dyche’s most valuable assets, he will likely command a large sum considering he signed an extension to his contract last year that keeps him at Turf Moor until 2024.
The Rochdale-born youngster paired with Anthony Gordon would give the Blues two outright wingers who would secure the position for the future, while Townsend and Gray provide the Blues some options for the next couple of years. This would almost certainly spell the end of the tenures of Bernard and Alex Iwobi at Everton.
McNeil is a versatile and talented player who can slot in at winger or as wide midfielder depending on the formation being played.
A look at this May 2020 scouting report by Breaking the Lines will give more insight into why Everton are targeting McNeil. (We recommend reading the full report to get a good overall picture on the youngster)
One of his standout qualities is his crossing ability. Crossing is a prominent feature of the modern game, with Liverpool’s fullbacks having completed a combined 450 crosses. McNeil is an excellent crosser, hitting 4.59 crosses per 90 with a 31.16% success rate. In terms of his technique, he gets a good flight on the ball to ensure that it reaches its location.
Another impressive aspect of his technique is the topspin that he creates. This ensures that the ball travels quickly in the air while also creating a dip so it can surpass the defender, but then drop down to the path of the attacker. The 20-year-old hits the ball with the necessary precision so it can reach the defender and create a goalscoring opportunity.
When you keep in mind that Townsend was also the highest accuracy crosser in the Premier League last season, you can start to see that getting balls into the box for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to attack, or to lay off for Richarlison, James Rodriguez, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Abdoulaye Doucoure to pounce on, appears to be how Benitez wants to approach next season.
Consistently having players not named Lucas Digne who can pump balls into the box will give the Blues attack more depth and challenge defences to pick their poison in terms of who to mark and who to leave. McNeil shows a good workrate and regularly tracks back to support the midfield and defence, which is something Digne will appreciate even as he bombs forward.
With goalkeeper Asmir Begovic reportedly close to signing too, Everton could be announcing four new players in the next few days, but it still remains to be seen who departs as Marcel Brands continues to overhaul this bloated and overpaid squad.