If there’s one player who’s benefitted the most from Frank Lampard’s time as Everton manager, it’s undoubtably Alex Iwobi. Anthony Gordon may be getting all the mainstream attention and plaudits for his recent performances – and rightly so, but Iwobi’s relentlessness in terms of pressing and work ethic has been crucial to Everton’s recent victories.
Ever since being deployed as a third midfielder against West Ham, Iwobi’s consistent and diligent performances have led to him being one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s even become somewhat of a fan favourite – something that seemed beyond the realm of possibility just a few months ago.
Goodison Park is a tough crowd, which probably isn’t optimal for a player so reliant on confidence like Iwobi. Even after a decent start to a game, one loose pass would always lead to another; letting the Goodison groans get to his head and drain himself of any belief in his ability.
Add to that being misused and played out of position throughout his time at Everton by several different managers and there’s no wonder the guy has struggled to live up to his inflated price tag.
Under both Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez, Iwobi was used strictly as a touchline wide midfielder, where his role required him to stay wide and spam crosses. Since getting a consistent run in the side under Lampard, he’s been given license to express himself a bit more and combine centrally with the attacking players.
This suits him and the angles he operates at so much more, hence the turn of form. He’d only completed 9 key passes pre-Lampard but has yielded 26 since the change in manager (and his position).
The game time he’s been rewarded with has enabled the qualities he’s always had to stand out. Quite frankly, there aren’t too many players more effective than Iwobi at progressing the ball into the penalty area, whether that’s from a pass or a dribble.
His combination and link-up play has always been top ever since he broke through at Arsenal. He also has a lovely through ball in his locker as showcased numerous times in recent weeks.
However, it’s his off-the-ball work and intelligence that’s truly won the fans over. Whilst he’s always been a top presser, he’s certainly taken it up a level in recent months. The 25-year-old is completing over 24 pressures per 90 this season – almost double his numbers last season (13.1).
The guy simply doesn’t stop running. He’s also completing more tackles, interceptions and blocks than in previous seasons. It seems he finally understands that even if you’re not having a great game, if you give 100% by covering the pitch and putting a strong tackle in, Goodison Park will adore you.
Iwobi possesses the physical qualities required to be a good outlet too. He’s not super pacey, but he has a quick burst. Whilst he may not be as effective as a Demarai Gray or Anthony Gordon in this regard, his powerful build allows him to get his team up the pitch and hold off more opponents from the ball.
Scoring the all-important stoppage-time winner against Newcastle back in March has done wonders for Iwobi’s confidence, which has undoubtedly been the player’s biggest drawback throughout his career.
Since that game, the Nigerian playmaker hasn’t missed a minute of league action, much thanks to his energy and versatility – such an invaluable combination to have in a squad player. Interestingly, the loss to Brentford was his 10th consecutive league start – his most since he was playing for Arsenal 5 years ago.
Ultimately, when given consistent minutes and the license to roam and express himself, particularly more centrally, Iwobi’s proven to be a good player. He’s a nice combination player, a useful outlet and a brilliant presser, who’s been key to Everton’s recent turnaround.
He’s consistently dropped fantastic performances at both central midfield and right back and has finally got the Everton crowd on his side. Long may it continue.
By: James Lloyd / @Jlloyd2000
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tony McArdle – Everton FC