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Everton 2023/24 Season Preview: Central Midfielders

Will consistency help to build a stronger foundation?

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images


In what now seems like an every-other-season happenstance, Everton split the season between two managers with very different approaches. Over the first half of the campaign, Frank Lampard alternated between a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3, with mixed results. With the arrival of Sean Dyche, his preferred 4-4-2 could not be utilized because of a lack of strikers so a combination of 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 was played depending on the opposition. Central midfield was an area where there was a stockpile of resources so there was rarely a consistency of players. During preseason, the boss continued to play 4-2-3-1 with the shortage of strikers denying Dyche the chance to play his favoured 4-4-2.

Current Players

Wigan Athletic v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Idrissa Gana Gueye

When Everton resigned Idrissa Gueye last summer there was a collective sigh of relief that we had finally found the player to take over from Gana when he left for PSG 3 years before. Statistically last year, Gueye showed the quality that drove PSG to get him 4 years ago. He ranked third in the Premier League in tackles with 97 and 2nd in interceptions. His other quality that shines through is his passing. He ended the season with a passing accuracy of 85% and an even more impressive 89% in his own half.

Dyche has consistently relied on Gueye but the emergence of Gardner and Onana gives him the opportunity to manage the playing time of the aging midfielder who turns 34 in September. However, his quality shows that he is not done yet but there have been some worrying lapses in concentration that came creeping in last season.

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images

Amadou Onana

21 year old Amadou Onana arrived at Everton one year ago for €35m from LOSC Lille. At Lille, Onana was used primarily as a sitting midfielder and Lampard used him in this role but the lack of firepower up front led him to be used in a more advanced role, playing both as an 8 and 10. When Dyche arrived the necessity to tighten things up at the back saw his time drop with him only completing the full 90 minutes in 6 of the last 15 games. In addition to his stamina and work rate, Onana’s 6’4” stature also aids his defensive contribution. He ranks in the 93rd percentile for aerial duels won, helps Everton when defending set pieces, and can use his long stride and limbs to better his tackling ability.

Tracking back showed how he could steal the ball back. His tackling was ranked in the 77th percentile, 74th for interceptions and clearances. In preseason, Onana has been used extensively by Dyche and the consistency of approach should benefit the young Belgian.

There was much talk of a big move at the end of last season but it looks like Everton will be able to hold onto the big man which should allow him to continue to grow as a player in this league and help Everton move up the table. We will be looking forward to more games where he can truly impose himself on the midfield for long periods of time.

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images


Much excitement abounded as Dele arrived 18 months ago via a curiously constructed deal that saw the Toffees stump up no initial fee, with payments of up to £40m to follow depending on targets met, the first of which will be a £10m instalment upon the player reaching 20 appearances. Up to now he has only made 13 appearances after he was loaned out unsuccessfully to Beşiktaş.

His recent revelatory interview has been met with support and he looks determined to get his life and career back on track after having endured some truly horrific times. With Dyche frequently giving players a chance to be reborn, the man who was elite-level only a few years ago should be given every chance to prove his worth. He has cost us nothing up to now and he will have the start of the year to show us whether his determination will pay off. A player of his quality for £10m would be great business, even though he only has one more season left on his contract. Fingers crossed.

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Abdoulaye Doucoure

A mainstay of the Blues midfield over the past three years, the French-born Malian international will surely be an important cog in the machine once more as he signed a one year contract extension this summer. Last season, Doucouré was missing for 13 games due to injury and suspension. Everton never won a game while he was out, drew six and scored only six goals.

Under Lampard, we only saw patches of what he was brought in to do - namely be an energetic box-to-box player. The arrival of Gueye and Onana along with the management of Sean Dyche has freed him up to contribute further forward which culminated in that goal against Bournemouth.

Doucouré was in the team for 25 games last season and the team won 8, drew 6, lost 11 and scored 28. Interestingly, of the 11 losses, he only played in 5 of them for the full 90 minutes and started only 6. Three of those losses were the opening game against Chelsea, Manchester City away and Liverpool. Despite it looking like he has concrete boots on at times, his importance to this side could not be understated.

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images

James Garner

James Garner had a slow start to his Goodison career as a series of niggling injuries kept him out of the reckoning early in the season. It was his versatility and ability to perform in a variety of positions, including filling in at right back when injuries to Seamus Coleman and Nathan Patterson forced Dyche’s hand later in the season.

In preseason, Garner was utilised on the right-hand side of midfield against Sporting CP in their final tune-up game and did a capable job and is being considered for this role against Fulham. Garner has quality and his defensive abilities are clear to see. The other part of his game that adds to his chances is his awareness of the game, his free kicks and his ability to find a clinical pass.

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Jean-Philippe Gbamin

Two players who have to be the poster boys for would have, could have, should have, Gbamin and Gomes returned from their loans with slightly differing outlooks. Gbamin spent last season with Trabzonspor in Turkey and played 24 times in all competitions, after half a season in Russia with CSKA Moscow the previous season. He has not been spotted in any of the Finch Farm pictures and there has been some talk of a move to Lyon. If the opportunity arises it would be best to ship him off.

Everton v Sporting Lisbon - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Andre Gomes

Andre Gomes appears to have recovered from his horrific injury but his chances of breaking into the Everton midfield are slim. He has been involved in the preseason training and came on for the final fifteen minutes against Sporting. Gomes’ incredibly high £120,000-per-week contract is due to expire at season’s end, so agreeing to another loan would end Everton’s chances of being able to recoup a transfer fee but would also finalize his departure from the club. Clearly, no one wants to pay a fee so this is the only logical route forward. His departure would close one of the many failed transfers that has gotten the team into such a mess over the past few years.

Bolton Wanderers v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Alex Iwobi

It was difficult to pin down exactly where Iwobi fits in when discussing the specific components of the team, which encapsulates his problem since arriving at the club three years ago. Lampard and Dyche plugged the Nigerian into whatever position the situation required, taking advantage of the player’s commitment and energetic displays. Looking forward, it is actually tough to figure out where he is going to be used best thus making him a victim of his own versatility.

On paper this would probably be in a “number eight” role in a midfield three, but this seems unlikely at present, since Dyche is favouring a 4-5-1. Initially, I expect him to be fielded in a variety of positions, mostly out wide or off the bench, which is unfortunate - and undeserved - for a man who brings such quality to the team. It is because of this conundrum that talk of his potential departure could happen before the transfer door closes at the end of the month. There has been plenty of talk of a contract extension, yet little has come to light about when or if that will happen.

Everton v Sporting CP - Pre Season Friendly - Goodison Park Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

State of the Position

With last year’s arrivals of Gueye, Onana and Garner, the central midfield area was one where Everton had depth. Doucoure and Iwobi were ever presents and the core group of five played the majority of matches and provided the necessary backup when injuries occurred.

The departure of Tom Davies and the possible departures of bit-part players Andre Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin could open the door for further moves but it is more likely that any money that is gained will be used elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how Dyche balances this critical part of the field. He has lots of choice and lots of options depending on the situation and his ability to change the personnel in order to change strategy will certainly lead to greater success.