Everton’s midfield is always a constant when discussing the club’s lack of progress, dating back to the time of the departure of David Moyes who ensured the balance was right in the centre of the park. However, the 7 managers that have followed Moyes have all struggled to find a solution to the issue – whether that be in personnel or philosophy.
Roberto Martinez managed to conjure a flexible midfield of players such as James McCarthy, who was brought from Wigan with Martinez, and Gareth Barry- a player that would prove to be one of the most effective in improving Everton’s midfield.
Another player that thrived was Ross Barkley, playing in a more free & creative role which complemented the attackers, allowing Barry and McCarthy to do their jobs whilst the arrival of Muhamed Besic provided the manager with options. However, inconsistency from the team on a whole summarised the Spaniard’s tenure, leaving the club in 11th place after a rather successful first season.
After Roberto Martinez, the list of managers until the current moment has grown to 6 – with very few of the coaches getting what they want from their respective midfields. One of the smartest buys to improve the midfield was Idrissa Gana Gueye, brought in from Aston Villa by Ronald Koeman.
Gueye controlled the game with his flexibility to play in any role necessary, able to play as a 6 or 8 depending on the tactic. The Senegalese midfielder’s ability to deal with runners was demonstrated via his pace and was certainly utilised in pair with his eye for a tackle and timing.
Tackling wasn’t the only thing Gueye had; he also possessed a natural passing instinct with accuracy at the forefront, whether that be methods to break a press or a way to get the team playing on the front foot. Soon, he attracted the attention of several big-name European clubs, but it was in the summer of 2019 that he got his dream move to continental giants Paris Saint-Germain for a fee of £27 million.
The expectation was that Everton would dip back into the market for an adequate replacement, and the club anticipated Gueye’s departure and identified Jean Phillipe-Gbamin as the man to fill his boots.
Gbamin was seen as almost a like-for-like replacement and was brought in by Marcel Brands for £25 million. However, after only two Premier League appearances, the Ivorian suffered a long-term hamstring injury lasting in excess of 200 days – missing the rest of Everton’s 2019/20 campaign.
Even after a change in manager to serial winner Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian struggled with the midfield during the second part of the 2019/20 season and manufactured the signings of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan and James Rodriguez for a total of £60 million, with James joining on a free.
Entering the 2020/21 campaign, the revitalised midfield started well and Everton finally thought they had their main issue solved until consistency started to tail off towards Christmas. Doucoure provided Ancelotti with a box-to-box option, capable of breaking up play but similarly to Allan – the problem was passing. Both players’ accuracy stats in the campaign were unfavourable, to put it lightly.
James Rodriguez was a player that created plenty of issues, but the biggest issue with James was fitness. The Colombian only managed to play 23 Premier League games and Everton were rendered deficient in chances created when he was absent from the team.
While unpredictable, on his day James Rodriguez was like no other Everton player. His ability to pick out any pass he liked was sublime; pair that with the ability to score from almost any area of the final third and you have a one of a kind creator.
However as stated before, his ‘day’ wasn’t too frequent and ultimately the inconsistency in playing time between the three left Ancelotti with midfield options of Andre Gomes, Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson — a trio that was, to put it lightly, lacking in mobility.
The struggle continued under Rafa Benitez, who assigned the role of a creator to Abdoulaye Doucoure, playing him as a number 10 with Allan playing behind him. Occasionally Allan and Doucoure played parallel to each other, leaving the midfield to be over-exposed and overrun, unable to close the space to opposition players.
While the season started well for Doucoure, scoring on the first game of the season against Southampton, his passing accuracy once again proved to be his downfall last season.
Once Frank Lampard was appointed in January, the form of Alex Iwobi came alive. Often played as a 10 during his tenure, he proved to be one of the main reasons Everton avoided relegation and massively contributed towards the winning results, even if that might not show in his G/A tally.
In January, Lampard signed Donny van de Beek from Manchester United on a loan deal to fix his midfield issues but he also struggled with fitness, leaving the manager to turn to second-choice options once again.
Lampard also brought in Dele Alli on an initial free transfer from Spurs but the midfielder didn’t feature regularly for Everton during the relegation battle and instead worked hard on making amends and putting things right for the following season.
Dele looks set to play a major part in Lampard’s midfield this season as he impressed fans and the manager in pre-season, removing any doubts of fitness issues. The former Tottenham star is a player that has fallen from grace recently but may now be given the opportunity to turn his career around under a manager that knows the position so well.
He seems to be the type of player that can be at the very top of his game when he feels trusted and wanted in the atmosphere, something that the Everton fans will be happy to provide to see him at his very best again.
Moving onto current players, Andre Gomes looks set to depart Goodison Park after an underwhelming 2 years following an ankle fracture in 2019. Gomes was highly regarded after his initial loan spell at Everton but the injury changed everything.
Since making a full recovery Andre Gomes has struggled to find consistent form under 3 different managers. Although he has technical ability, his mobility and all-round game aren’t suited to the Premier League as Lampard seems to prefer Tom Davies as the backup midfield choice.
Tom Davies came through the academy and made his first team debut in the 16/17 season, scoring against Manchester City in a 4-0 win. Davies’ progression has been lacklustre and not as smooth as some may have expected from the breakthrough campaign.
He’s a player that has also struggled with injuries and has the odd error in him but a solid backup nonetheless. Everton cannot be starting ‘solid backups’ every week though.
Everton’s current midfield needs additions, looking to replace the defensive acumen of Idrissa Gana Gueye and the club have turned their eyes, ironically to Idrissa. GoalFrance reports that Gana Gueye is close to returning to Goodison and talks have taken place between the parties.
Even at the age of 32, his ability shone through at PSG, in very high-profile games too – Manchester City at the Etihad immediately springs to mind. If he can do it for Paris, he could definitely do it under Frank Lampard’s Everton.
Also linked in the centre is Scottish youngster Billy Gilmour, a player that featured under Frank Lampard at Chelsea and one that looks set to leave the London outfit after an unsuccessful loan at Norwich last year.
Gilmour is more of number 8 but could also play as a 6 if need be, however, if he wants to play Premier League football regularly, he undoubtedly needs to improve his physique. The Scot evidently has potential and at around £15 million a deal could prove to be value for money if he can kick on and get his head down.
Finally, a return of Ross Barkley has been touted around as a potential move, with the player particularly keen. Ross Barkley left Everton in a rather complicated manner, leaving many Everton fans with an unpleasant taste in their mouths.
However, at the moment Barkley is an option that might appeal to some, with a return looking unambitious but one that could help Everton in the short term. Ultimately, improving the midfield over the likes of Gomes, cheap wages and a low transfer fee would be the key to any deal.
Overall, the midfield needs drastically revitalising and Frank Lampard’s coaching team will have a tough task ahead of them trying to obtain their first-choice targets. It could be another season of struggles in the centre but new additions could be the fix to that long-term issue.
By: Adam McNulty
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Lee – Chelsea FC