Player Analysis: Who should start in Everton’s Midfield?

The central midfield is one of the most crucial positions to cover in the football world, not only those who start but the depth behind it. No other position on the pitch has as much engagement with the ball than this position, and it’s been the first time since the days of Mikel Arteta that I’ve been 100% happy with how our midfield looks. It seems crazy how much our midfield has upgraded compared to last season, Besic being the only player performing above the rest. This season, not only have Gueye and Schneiderlin provided such a great presence, but also the breakthrough of Davies and the revival of Barkley has delivered a massive boost. It’s a fantastic dilemma, who should we start in midfield? Here’s my analysis and opinion.

The Candidates and how have I’ve analysed them?

I’ve decided to use three factors to determine who Everton should start in their midfield. They are:

  • Ball Recoveries
  • Pass Expectancy
  • Ball Retention

Not only would this show who is the most effective in possession but who presses the best… which is what Ronald Koeman is attempting to add to the team. I’ve selected five Everton midfielders who are the strongest contenders for a starting position. Ross Barkley, Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies. At this moment in time, James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic are those who usually sit on the sidelines, so I’m not including them in this article.

The formation

Koeman has used two very effective formations in the last few months. The first is a 352. This was played when Idrissa Gueye was at AFCON and saw Ross Barkley drop deep with Davies and Schneiderlin.

The other has been a 433, Barkley playing on the wing next to Lukaku. This has improved their link-up play a lot. As for the midfield, Everton usually start with Schneiderlin, Gueye and Davies in the centre, but Gareth Barry has got involved recently. Against non-pressing teams, Barry has proved to be very effective but against Tottenham, their press proved too much.

Ball Recoveries

The amount of ball recoveries we make reveals how well we press and how effective the press is. Not only is it making a tackle/interception but it also values the next pass afterwards and building our attack.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 16.15.25
Everton’s ball recovery map versus West Brom.

Here is an example of a ball recovery map; this shows that our pressing was very effective on the right of the attack and on the left side at the back. It’s a crucial piece of analysis.

It’s no surprise that Idrissa Gueye has made the highest average amount out of all of our midfielders, making an average of 7.5 ball recoveries per game. Gareth Barry is the next at 6.8 pg, with Morgan Schneiderlin behind him at 4.8 pg. Our more attacking midfielders, Barkley and Davies, have lower amounts (3.1 and 3 average ball recoveries per game). Despite this it is worth noting down that Barkley’s defensive contribution has gone up significantly over the past 6 months.

Pass Expectancy

Not only do this show how well/poorly the pass is executed, but the difficulty the pass the player’s making is also shown on this data.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 17.35.48
Expected Passing graph (@footballfactman).

As you can see, Gueye’s passes are more comfortable rather than creative/risky. This shows he recycles the ball much more than he tries to create. Ross Barkley is in the centre of the graph, but the amount of assists and chances he has created has gone up as well as his defensive capabilities.

Gareth Barry is the most likely of our midfielders to use the long ball to try to create a chance. Against teams like West Brom or Middlesbrough who don’t press at all, this is a very effective tactic. However, Gareth Barry can be caught out against teams that press highly, just like Tottenham. I can almost guarantee that he will start against Hull.

Tom Davies doesn’t make as many passes as most of our midfielders, but for his age, to be near the centre of the graph is good. No data for Morgan Schneiderlin was found, but he has one of the highest passing accuracy’s in the side and only Barry makes more long balls than he does.

The graph tells us not only what we have, but what we desperately need. Right now we don’t have a creator for Lukaku or a midfielder who can execute a pass from difficult positions.

Ball Retention

This tells us how well our midfielders can keep the ball and maintain possession. Without the ball, we won’t win games and considering that the midfield has more of the ball than any other position, having players who can keep the ball in midfield is very important.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 16.52.56
Everton Ball Retention.

The table clearly shows that Ross Barkley and Tom Davies are the ball carriers of the side, both having smaller pass accuracy whilst the amount of runs being made increasing. Gareth Barry is by far our cleanest player when having the ball, but his execution and discipline lets him down massively.

Schneiderlin and Gueye are the recyclers of the team, winning back and keeping possession the main priority. Both men have received a lot of hype when they are playing, only Tottenham have beaten us when the two have been in midfield.


As mentioned, this is the best Everton midfield since Arteta left but it still has its weaknesses. Creativity is one of them, but signing a winger in the summer could make this factor irrelevant. In my opinion, Schneiderlin, Gueye and Davies should be the midfield going forward in the future. As for Ross Barkley, I’d start him on the right of Lukaku. Against teams that don’t press, that’s when Barry can come in the side. With plenty of room on the field, Barry can be effective and this showed against West Brom.


Stats via @footballfactman, WhoScored and FourFourTwo,


Up the Toffees.

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