Everton have officially unveiled their second signing in two days and third of the summer after an agreement with Burnley sees English winger Dwight McNeil coming to Merseyside. Former Director of Football Marcel Brands inquired about the player last summer but decided not to meet the Lancashire club’s £25 million valuation, and now, 12 months on, he looks to be making that move to Merseyside for a more palatable £15 million with a potential £5 million in incentive-laden bonuses. As widely reported, Everton moved their sights toward the player once it was clear that an agreement for Maxwell Cornet wasn’t achievable even though other sources claim the Ivorian international might yet join the Blues.
So, how does Dwight McNeil compare to his (former) teammate, and how does he compare to his future teammates? Let’s take a look.
At first glance, the reading doesn’t look great. But context is important when evaluating attacking players who have been at Burnley since age 16. Please note that all stats referenced are from Premier League action only.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Dwight McNeil is not a prolific goalscorer. However, that’s not why Everton are purchasing him. The former Manchester United academy player is a proficient dribbler; one of the best in the Premier League despite playing for years in a system that generally frowns upon flair.
Dwight McNeil made 90 successful dribbles in the Premier League last season - only Allan Saint-Maximin (150) made more. #EFC— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) July 27, 2022
He’s also an adept creator. The 2.81 Shot-Creating Actions/90 that he registered last season was the highest of his young career and would put him 4th in last year’s Everton squad. In terms of overall SCA, his 97 is well above Demarai Gray’s 83 who led the Toffees in the metric. However, McNeil’s Goal-Creating Actions/90 of just 0.14 was the lowest of his career thus far. This contrast is clear evidence of a theme through which we should be viewing all of his stats; Burnley’s strikers were simply awful last season. The Clarets as a club scored 7 fewer goals than xG would predict over the course of the season, the second-worst in the league only above Norwich City. This was a huge reason why he only registered one assist last season, although his xA of 4.8 was still not fantastic, but I expect that to improve with a step up in the quality of players around him.
Dwight McNeil provided just 1 assist in 38 appearances in the Premier League last season. Although, he created 47 chances, more than any other #EFC player and placing him among the top 25 chance creators in the league.— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) July 27, 2022
He is also a good crosser of the ball, something Everton have blatantly lacked since the departure of Lucas Digne. McNeil’s 111 crosses attempted last season is 40 more than Everton’s team leader and new #10 Anthony Gordon and his 26 crosses completed into the 18-yard box is twice as many as Everton’s team leader Andros Townsend, who missed the last 11 games of the season through injury. If that doesn’t scream out that Everton need someone who can deliver a cross, I don’t know what will. Combine this with the fact that Dominic Calvert-Lewin, when fit, is one of the most aerially imposing strikers in the world, and it seems clear that increasing the supply chain to the Blues’ big #9 is the main goal of this signing, along with adding more youth to a team that lacks it. Getting DCL back to his 2020/21 form will be crucial should Everton hope to avoid the relegation battle this time around.
McNeil is also very good defensively, as his stats show. Considering he played as a wide-midfielder in a Sean Dyche 4-4-2, you could probably expect that, but there’s no doubt that his work rate and defensive abilities are assets. Richarlison excelled in his pressing and tackling last season, and so McNeil will go a ways toward replacing that defensive output within Everton’s frontline/midfield.
Most tackles won among U23 players across Europe's Top 5 Leagues:— Matchday365 (@Matchday365) May 17, 2022
1⃣ Tyrick Mitchell, 98
2⃣ Aurelien Tchouameni, 84
3⃣ Dwight McNeil, 77
4⃣ Cheick Doucoure, 74
5⃣ Nico Schlotterbeck, 72 pic.twitter.com/BiHyYVOezV
So what does McNeil need to improve upon in order to be a success at Everton? Well, as I mentioned, goal scoring was not his forté for Burnley (that screamer at Goodison aside), and that is something he must improve in order to nail down a spot in Frank Lampard’s side. With just 7 goals in 133 appearances for the Clarets, his record doesn’t inspire much confidence, but should he be employed in a more advanced position than that of a wide midfielder in Dyche’s 4-4-2, I expect him to get in shooting positions much more often. His 1.77 touches in the attacking penalty area/90 are in the bottom 1% among attacking mids and wingers in Europe’s Top 5 leagues, but I expect that to improve significantly should Lampard choose to use him as an actual winger.
If he can improve his eye for goal and continue to impress through his dribbling and crossing, Everton’s decision to fork up the cash for the 22-year-old could be easily justified, and hopefully, he will prove to be a more than shrewd acquisition for Kevin Thelwell and company.