Stats: 2020/21 Everton Central Midfielders
|Player||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Tackle % (PL)|
|Player||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Tackle % (PL)|
Under Carlo Ancelotti the Blues mostly lined up with three in the middle - Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and one of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andre Gomes or Tom Davies - for most of the season. With Rafa Benitez, what we saw from the preseason was that he primarily used the 4-2-3-1 with a switch to 4-4-2 depending on the personnel available to him.
The addition of Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend has certainly given Benitez more wide options when playing the double pivot, which will likely continue to be Allan and Doucoure even though the Blues have been linked with Sean Longstaff and Denis Zakaria who are solid defensive midfielders. For the 4-4-2 with likely Richarlison playing off Dominic Calvert-Lewin, expect to see Alex Iwobi and Townsend to be used as the wide midfielders as they provide defensive cover as well.
Where Everton could run into issues is in the central attacking midfielder spot. Should James Rodriguez stay with the Toffees then that likely becomes where he would be used. With the legal troubles surrounding a certain Everton player, it is likely that a backup will be sought for that position and youngster Matheus Nunes has been linked.
A tackling machine in the middle of the pitch, he proved to be every bit the player he was expected to be when the Blues signed the Brazilian. A little short on pace and sometimes prone to get carried away chasing an opponent leaving his backline exposed, Allan nevertheless brought some solidity in a spine that has often sagged in previous years. The Toffees will be best served by carefully watching his minutes and not placing him in positions where his lack of speed will be exposed.
The indefatigable midfielder with lungs to spare also turned out to be excellent value for what the Toffees spent on him. Doucoure covered just about every blade of grass on the pitch for most games, and while he was not able to contribute offensively to the extent he did at Watford FC. In a recent interview the Frenchman seemed to attribute this to instructions from Ancelotti who wanted him in a deeper role but Benitez has already pushed him further upfront as a disrupting force.
Every season that passes and he remains on the Blues his aura slips that much more. Gomes still has the eye for a defence-splitting pass, but that aside it’s hard to tell what exactly he contributes to the Toffees. He has not been the same player either since suffering a fractured dislocation to his right ankle against Tottenham Hotspur a couple of years ago. There were some rumours that a return to Portugal might be on the cards for him, but nothing has materialized.
The Academy product draws another year closer to the end of his contract without definitively proving that he belongs - or doesn’t - in the Premier League. Ancelotti’s presence seemed to give him some direction and we saw a number of improved showings from him last season, but he remains a backup midfielder for the Blues.
The Ivorian midfielder continued to suffer from his injury curse picking up a new unfortunate ailment that saw him miss the rest of the season soon after making his first appearance of the season. He has looked rejuvenated on Everton’s preseason tour, bombing forward at every opportunity and even grabbing a goal against Blackburn Rovers. The worry for Gbamin is always that he could ‘play scared’ after all his injuries, but we haven’t seen any signs of that.
Contending with Ashley Williams for the most disliked Everton player in modern times, Delph’s bloated wages and corresponding drain on resources make for one of the reasons why the Blues cannot sign any new players. Hard to tell whether Benitez used him in the middle during the preseason because he had no other players available to him, or because — quite terrifyingly — he is planning to rely on him this season.
State of the Position
Everton’s midfield, for so long the weakness of the side, was rejuvenated by the addition of Allan and Doucoure last season. The return of a healthy Gbamin is like a new signing and adds speed in what remains a mostly slow group of midfielders.
The manager will be aware that there is a sum total of zero creativity that will come out of this midfield, so the Blues will likely be reduced to crosses from the flanks and setpieces to get all their goals this season.
Worryingly for the future though, Gbamin and Davies are the only young players in the middle and there is not much coming through in the pipeline in the immediate future. Tyler Onyango and Isaac Price have shown lots of potential but are still teenagers. Benitez has been spending quite a bit of time this summer watching the Under-23 and Under-18 sides, so it will be interesting to see if they are called up to the first team squad more often.