It’s not particularly difficult to pick out the shortcomings of last season’s Everton side; there were significant issues with the team’s performance in each and every area of the pitch. In my mind, however, there weren’t any more evident than the team’s lack of chance creation and lack of quality in possession. And thus, when I saw this morning that Christian Eriksen is considering the offer Everton has placed on the table, my eyes lit up.
Now look, I do not believe that Eriksen will end up choosing Goodison Park as his next footballing home, but I do believe that Kevin Thelwell and Frank Lampard should be pulling out every trick in the book to try and convince the former Spurs star to do exactly that. Here’s why:
It all starts with what Frank Lampard wants to change about how Everton play this season (Hint: A lot). In his previous managerial spells at Derby County and Chelsea, he employed a possession and short passing heavy style which is the complete opposite of the pragmatic needs-must methodology which helped the Toffees scrap to safety last season. Before this campaign, however, one would expect the former midfielder to stamp his footballing philosophy on the team now that he has a full transfer window and preseason to make the necessary alterations. Assuming he decides to implement that style, the acquisition of Eriksen would go a long way toward transforming the complexion of the team.
Let’s first discuss how he would improve Everton’s chance creation. With the departures of James Rodriguez and Lucas Digne, combined with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s absence due to off-field issues, the Toffees lost a massive portion of their creative ability last year. Those three players contributed half of Everton’s assists in 2020/21, 48% of their expected assists, 38% of their goal-creating actions, 32% of their shot-creating actions, 31% of their touches in the final third, 28% of their progressive passes, and so on and so forth. Each of those players registered over five xA throughout the season, while Demarai Gray was the only Everton player last season to register over four. Everton scored only 43 goals throughout the campaign, the club’s lowest since 2005/06, and the drop-off in creation combined with the injuries and inconsistency from Dominic Calvert-Lewin were mainly to blame.
When you compare Eriksen’s numbers while at Brentford last season to those of Everton’s current players, it’s staggering just how much he would’ve improved this deficiency. The Dane registered 0.38 A/90 in the league, while Richarlison led Everton with just 0.18; not even half the output. Eriksen’s 0.36 xA/90 also more than doubled Demarai Gray’s team-high 0.17. The 30-year-old would have also been Everton’s clear leader in npG+A/90, npxG+xA/90, SCA/90, and GCA/90. When you compare his creative output to Andros Townsend’s, who was probably Everton’s best creator when considering all metrics, it’s not a close call whatsoever.
It is worth mentioning that as Eriksen only joined Brentford midway through the season, his sample size of 935 minutes from 11 games is relatively low, but his consistent performances still showed that his level has not dropped despite the leave of absence he took after the medical emergency he suffered during the Euros last summer. In fact, his numbers are still amongst the best in Europe in many categories for creative midfielders in the last 365 days.
Christian Eriksen also, of course, has an incredible history of chance production in the Premier League dating back to his seven-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Since 2013/14, the year in which he first came to the Premier League, Eriksen has registered the second-most assists and the second-most chances created, only trailing the great Kevin De Bruyne in both categories. With Everton in desperate need of a creative spark to unlock the goal-scoring abilities of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison (or whoever may replace them), it’s clear to see why this acquisition could turn things around for the Toffees.
An understated part of Eriksen’s game and a big area of need for the Blues is setpieces. Everton used Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon for setpiece delivery last season once Lucas Digne left Merseyside, and there was certainly a drop off in quality there. The importance of having a player like Eriksen who is renowned for taking freekicks and corners cannot be understated especially for a team like Everton who get a significant contribution of goals and chances from setpieces.
Secondly, Eriksen would significantly, improve Everton’s quality in possession. As I previously mentioned, Lampard’s other managerial tenures thus far have reflected his possession-based philosophy. In 2019/20, when he guided his former club Chelsea to 4th place despite losing Eden Hazard and being handed a transfer ban, the Blues were 3rd in the league in possession (60.7%), as well as passes attempted, passes completed, and progressive passes completed and were 2nd in pass completion percentage (84.2%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, Everton last season were 17th in progressive passes completed, 18th in both passes attempted and passes completed, 19th in pass completion percentage (72.2%), and had the lowest amount of possession of any team in Europe’s Top 5 Leagues with a staggering 39.7%.
Quite clearly, Everton’s tactical set-up and lack of quality in midfield compounded with devastating effects to produce these simply horrific numbers, but Christian Eriksen slotting into the center of the park could go a long way to improve these figures. Eriksen’s 6.25 progressive passes/90 easily exceed Allan’s team-high 4.36, while his 61 attempted passes/90 and 45.4 completed passes/90 comfortably surpass the team-highs from Jonjoe Kenny (41.9) and Fabian Delph (35.5) respectively. With Lampard looking to regain and retain more control of the ball, a midfield three of Eriksen alongside ball-winners such as Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan could completely change the outlook of Everton’s tactical position and style.
And so, although it still seems unlikely that the Danish ace turns down the likes of Manchester United, Newcastle, Leicester City, and even current club Brentford in favor of the blue half of Merseyside, this profile of player is one that Thelwell and Lampard must vigorously pursue in order to facilitate the necessary transformation this season from relegation battlers back to ambitious mid-table dreamers. Maybe, just maybe, a miracle will happen, and Christian Eriksen will be pulling on the blue shirt of Everton come August. What a sight that would be!
All stats referenced are from Premier League matches only and were received from FBRef and Understat.com.