It may seem that Everton are well-stocked when it comes to central midfield options, but that is only the case for those that are defensively minded. Ronald Koeman started using the season with the buzzword ‘aggression’. He has now moved on to ‘productivity’. Those two words can be used to explain Everton’s midfield transfer policy since last summer. Talk of aggression seen the club bring in Idrissa Gueye, talk of productivity would lead to assumptions that creative central midfielders will be high up on Everton’s wishlist. At this moment in time, Tom Davies is the only realistic creative option that Ronald Koeman has in the centre of midfield, even then, the young Englishman hasn’t displayed too much in that department. The five options here can all play as a creative influence from a deeper, more central role than a traditional number 10.
1) Gylfi Sigurdsson
With 9 goals and 13 assists in the Premier League this season, as well as the ability to play as a number 10, cutting in from the wing and a deeper role within central midfield, the Icelandic playmaker is one of the most popular options. Some may argue that Sigurdsson is not ‘top 4 quality’, it must be remembered that this is a player that Mauricio Pochettino did not want to sell at Spurs and he still significantly improves Everton’s creative options. The very top-tier of creative options are not yet available to Everton, so a player like Sigurdsson, who improves the starting eleven, should be welcomed with open arms. However, it must be stated that Sigurdsson’s most productive seasons come when he is paired with a traditional target men in front of him, Wilfred Bony and Fernando Llorente immediately spring to mind. Despite some false national perceptions of Romelu Lukaku, he doesn’t yet fit the target man role. Perhaps Sigurdsson would be a more productive influence for Everton if a player like Willian Jose arrived as well. But if the Icelandic international was added to the squad in its current shape, with two players like Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneirderlin next to him, Sigurdsson could be given enough support and time on the ball to improve on the 72 chances he created this season. The 27 year-old is also a player who could be deployed on the wing, considering the system that Koeman has tried to implement at Everton. As well as this versatility, Sigurdsson is an intelligent player with the ability to win games by himself, not to mention his set-piece ability. The less said about Everton in that department, the better. Surely seeing a corner regularly beat the first man is worth the £25m outlay alone, right?
2) Lorenzo Pellegrini
One thing that has really paid off for Sassuolo, during their three seasons in Serie A, has been the faith they have put in their young players. Two young Italians, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Domenico Berardi, are the two standout examples of this faith. Pellegrini was brought through the AC Milan youth academy, where he played as a striker, a number 10 and a centre back at different stages. Keeping this in mind, it makes sense to find that Pellegrini has excelled as a number 8. The disciplined, yet creative approach that the 21 year-old has become synonymous with could be something Everton could benefit from. Quick feet, god movement and intelligent passing have seen Pellegrini become a regular starter at Sassuolo. As stated above, the only real option of slight creativity that Everton have in their midfield currently is Tom Davies. Lorenzo Pellegrini is a player who is much more defined as a midfielder than Davies, granted the Italian is three years older. Six goals and six assists in Serie A this season is a good platform for the young midfielder to work from, one issue is his indecisive passing, which can be seen in the lack of chances that he created this year, averaging 0.93 per 90 minutes. It must be taken into account that Pellegrini is on a very specific path of improvement now, and is rapidly improving in that department. He has found his feet as a creative influence and that is where he will now continue to perform and improve, rather than someone like Davies who has not yet carved out a definitive position for himself which he can then excel at. If Everton were to move for Pellegrini, they could reap the rewards of a player who is improving at a very encouraging rate.
3) Ever Banega
As David Moyes does his best Neville Chamberlin impression, waving a work permit about at John Lennon Airport, it seems as good a time as any to discuss the possibility of actually signing Ever Banega. It has been a mixed season for the Argentine in Serie A. Branded as a flop by Christmas, the 28 year old had something of a renaissance in the New Year, before tailing off again as Inter Milan’s form nosedived towards the end of the season. According to reports, Inter are determined to spend again this summer, in an attempt to once again revamp their underachieving squad. To avoid further brushes with FFP, Inter will need to move on some of their high earners, if such a revamp is to take place. Banega has been one of the players most vocally touted to leave the San Siro. Despite the fact it has been widely accepted that Banega has had a poor season in Italy, he has still managed six goals and six assists in Serie A, as well as averaging 2.1 chances created per game. An overall pass completion rate shows an attacking midfielder who is careful with the ball, however, averaging 1.89 key passes per game, Banega still makes a telling attacking contribution. Everton have definitely lacked something of a ‘playmaker’ in recent years, someone capable of unlocking a defence with a single pass. Ever Banega undoubtedly fits this mould, and at 28 he still has his best years in front of him. The argentine’s reputation as something of a luxury player may be something that Koeman would be keen to avoid, however Unai Emery’s full-on brand of management of Banega got the best out of him at Sevilla. An interesting stat from Banega’s time in Serie A is that he has won 52% of his one-on-one duels, the highest on this shortlist. For a player who is perceived as someone who shirks his defensive duties, this figure is strangely high, suggesting that Banega could transition into a very useful creative option for Everton to have in their midfield.
4) Davy Klaassen
A player known for his late runs into the box, which has seen comparisons to the style of Frank Lampard. 13 goals and 9 assists in the Dutch League do demonstrate the productivity than Koeman is seeking. It may be difficult to contextualise Klaassen’s achievements in the Eredivisie, after all, it is a league in which Amin Younes plays a starring role. A technical player who does not rely on flair, Klaassen is a very different ‘productive’ midfielder than the likes of Ever Banega. The only significant positive that Klaassen seems to have over a player like Banega is goals and work-rate. He created two less chances than Banega (57), despite playing 1,200 more minutes than the Argentine this season, in an arguably much weaker league, but did score an extra seven goals. Comparisons to Christian Eriksen and Dennis Bergkamp seem wide of the mark, while he does possess the ability to play intelligent passes, it is nowhere near the ability or the rate of those two former Ajax stars. It goes without saying that Klaassen is technically gifted, but he is not blessed with significant pace or a daunting physique, and after being completely outclassed in the Europa League final against Manchester United, you have to wonder if he would be cut out for the physicality and pace of the Premier League. However there is another side to this argument, maybe Klaassen should not be seen as replacement for Davies and Barkley, but for James McCarthy. There are a number of similarities to the games of the two midfielders, the difference being that where McCarthy has settled and become content with the defensive side of his game, Klaassen is much more of an influence further up the pitch. He is a player who presses well, can win the ball back, as McCarthy can, but he can then play the ball forward quickly, while also getting into goal scoring positions and regularly finishing off the chances provided to him. Another positive is that at 24, Klaassen is already the club captain of Ajax, which would suggest that the Dutchman has the vital set of leadership qualities that Everton really need to find. Davy Klaassen would not be as clear-cut a successful signing as is being made out in some circles, but there is definitely a player with multiple positive qualities there and a case can without doubt be made for his arrival at Goodison Park. Whether he would be the answer to Everton’s ‘productivity’ issues remains to be seen.
5) Valentin Vada
After moving from Argentina to France when he was 14, Vada has had time to adapt to European football and culture, and has done so very well during the seven years he has spent on the continent. His hero growing up was Juan Roman Riquelme, which tells you a lot about the type of player he aspires to be as he progresses further. (I realise that this point I have propably induced a David Moyes transfer-related flashback by mentioning both Riquelme and Banega in the same article, I can only apologise) He has excelled since Bordeaux have moved to a 4-3-3 system at the begging of 2017, something which bodes well for the way Ronald Koeman has set up his Everton side, when deploying four at the back. A comparison within Ligue 1 has likened the Argentine’s style of play to that of Marco Verratti, but with more impact in the attacking third. A successful take on percentage of 79% highlights a player who can drive forwards and dribble past defenders, a trait Everton have lacked as Ross Barkley’s development has branched off in a different direction. While he is confident with the ball at his feet, Vada has already started to show a maturity with his passing, an 86% pass completion rate is on par with only Ever Banega in this list. With the temperament of a young South American footballer, Vada is not shy of a tackle, winning 47% of his duels and making over 1.2 tackles per 90 minutes. These are impressive statistics for a young midfielder renowned for his offensive talents. He’s not the tallest of midfielders, with a height comparable to Luka Modric, but he is well built and seems physically ready for the role of a box-to-box midfielder in a top league. Vada is yet another player in this list that has a strong delivery from set pieces, already being one of the go-to takers for Bordeaux. By the time next summer rolls around, if Vada continues on his current path of progression, some seriously big clubs will be looking to sign the Argentine. If Everton are intent on trying to find players that could take them to the next level, but are going under the radar of the top tier clubs, they need look no further than Valentin Vada.