You would expect that the majority of Everton’s transfer business this summer will be directed towards the right-side of Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-4-2, both a new right-back and a new right-winger are needed if they seriously want to think about competing for European places, whether that be the top 6 or top 4. As already mentioned throughout this transfer series, central-midfield is undoubtedly the main priority for the club this summer – even more so following another injury to Jean-Philippe Gbamin – but the right-midfield position is similarly a pressing concern.
The Current Crop
Everton’s left-side is sorted with both Alex Iwobi and Bernard expected to compete for that position for the foreseeable, as well as the emerging Anthony Gordon – all three have their strengths and weaknesses but they are similar in terms of ‘talent identification’, Bernard and Iwobi particularly acting as the creative source and in comparison to Ancelotti’s system with Napoli, provide exactly what he’d want from the left-midfielder in a 4-4-2. This means though that whoever plays out on the right, must complement the opposite flank.
In Bernard and Iwobi, Everton have two playmaking wingers who cut inside to act as a makeshift #10. It allows Digne to push forward into space ahead, allowing the side more options between-the-lines whilst also offering the front two have the support they need behind them. That’s one side boxed of.
But with the left-side being defined in such a pronounced way, the right-midfielder (notice midfielder and not winger) then has to exemplify a completely differing player construct altogether. So far, Ancelotti’s use of wingers has mirrored pretty much the equivalent of his Napoli side. Bernard and Iwobi have filled the role that was mainly used by Lorenzo Insigne or Piotr Zielinski, while Theo Walcott has been used as the more direct, keep-to-the-by-line role that was fulfilled by Jose Callejon. And that’s the type of player you’d expect Everton to be chasing after, someone who can replicate Walcott’s job, but effectively just do it better.
The right-midfielder, and not right-winger part, is an important yet unfortunate part when it comes down to narrowing the shortlist for this specific position. Ancelotti specifies 4-4-2 in his book ‘Quiet Leadership’, as the ‘outstanding defensive system’ but hints that the offensive methodology is possibly more so to do with individual quality or more accurately, the ‘creative qualities of the players’, and in consequence, forms quite the dilemma in terms of what type of player Everton would aiming to sign for the position.
Throughout his book, Ancelotti stresses the significance and necessity for defensive responsibility from his players, and the right-midfield position is no different. Unlike in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, your wide players need to be competent if not comfortable in contributing in deeper areas of the pitch. Whether it be tracking-back or being positionally aware to know where to be and when to be, or when to press or chase possession, and when to keep organised off-the-ball. Alex Iwobi’s performances since the restart of the season have been the perfect personification of that. Someone who has largely been criticised for his lack of effort out-of-possession, sometimes not doing enough to get back to protect the full-back behind him, he’s been magnificent since football’s return and his contribution is the very least of what we should expect from a new signing.
Outside of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin this season, only four players have scored more than once, and two of them are centre-backs (which is alarming), the fact is like mentioned in my right-back piece, Everton need more dangerous players. They need that type of joker card to play that wins games when Everton’s other forwards are stifled, but these players cost an amount of money that Everton probably can’t afford.
There is another possibility though, which will be discussed in more detail in the following and final part of this series, in that Richarlison, now forming a strong partnership up top with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, could again find himself back out-wide as the first-choice right-midfielder next season. Whilst he’s certainly taken another step since the move to playing in a front two, he has all the qualities that Everton would probably want from their right-midfielder. He’s a grafter, arguably the hardest worker in the side, he’s fairly strong at carrying the ball into dangerous areas, he’s also shown last season that he can get double figures from that position too (13 goals last season). His key underlying metrics hardly take a beating when he’s played out-wide rather than up-front, averaging 0.33 xG90 and 0.17 xA90 over the past two seasons as a striker (2,377 minutes) compared to 0.36 and 0.12 when used as a winger.
Ultimately it may not get the best out of the Brazilian, but he would still be good and in many ways, it could be the better option for the team, and that comes first.
Personal Choices –
Krepin Diatta –
- Nationality: Senegalese
- Age: 21
- Club: Club Brugge
- Position: Right-Midfield
- Other Positions: Wing-Back, Left-Midfield
- TransferMarkt Value: £17.10m
- Expected Value: £15-20m
Krepin Diatta? Who? I anticipate that that will likely be the common reaction when seeing this man’s name amongst this shortlist, though I can almost guarantee that he’ll be fairly well-known within the next 18 months (depending on where he goes next, mind). Diatta has been heavily compared to his compatriot Sadio Mane, and though I’m not one for generic player comparisons, there is definitely a resemblance – whether it be through his running style, his work-ethic or determination, or his unconventional but heavily impressive ability to beat a man almost effortlessly – whilst most comparisons will be made between the two because they share the same nationality, this one isn’t too far off the mark.
Diatta would add an extra source of creativity down the right-side, as well as another player able to carry the ball into dangerous areas to provide for the front two of Richy & Dom, he would add more attacking threat and goalscoring instinct that is seemingly missing outside of Everton’s forwards, even if his general numbers are hardly the most inspiring (8 goals & 4 assists).
Most importantly, the 21-year-old would supply the team with another danger-man, almost adding multiple strings to the side’s bow. In Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, the club have two potent forwards who even on an off-day, do enough to make themselves a nuisance for the opposition. Behind them currently, is the playmaking efforts of Bernard and Iwobi, and although individually both are decent players, they do cause the side to become almost one-dimensional in their approach going forward – simplistically, there isn’t enough variation in how we attack. Diatta changes that. Up against low-blocks (Marco Silva’s nightmare), Diatta’s intuitive runs off-the-ball, or his late darts arriving into unmarked space in the box, creates more problems for defences that would already have their hands full with the attacking duo up top. Or against the bigger sides in which Ancelotti tends to not push-up high and instead acts rather conservatively, Diatta adds another menace on the counter. His wicked bursts of acceleration into space or his progressive runs from one box to another, often causes serious damage to the opposition, the type of threat from an explosive winger that the club haven’t had since the departure of Gerard Deulofeu. In some ways, the Brugge youngster has many similar characteristics to the current Watford man, but where Geri mainly failed (defensive contribution and work-ethic), Diatta thrives.
Clearly, he offers another option for the side in key areas, another dangerous player, but he’s frequently involved creatively too. As pinpointed by ‘Mrkt Insights’ in their recent collaboration with ‘The Athletic’, Diatta ‘ranks in the top five per cent across the Belgian league for progressive runs, dribbles and successful through balls’, this, combined with his descriptive data visual below, represents how much of a well-rounded winger he is.
Significantly, the Brugge man does take a fair few shots, the locations aren’t always the greatest, albeit at 21 that can be adjusted and trained over-time, especially under a coach like Ancelotti, who has already done wonders for some players at the club individually. He brings a shooting out-put that is currently missing outside of the three main strikers. In fact, the only non-striker to average more than two shots p90 in the Premier League this season at the club, is Theo Walcott (2.12), whilst Alex Iwobi only averages 1.41 and Bernard quite horrifically, shoots just 0.89 times p90 – that’s less than both Yerry Mina and Tom Davies.
There are, and rightfully so, reservations about Diatta’s potential acclimatisation over to the Premier League from Belgium, although both Leandro Trossard and Moussa Djenpo have both had fairly solid debut seasons following their move from the Jupiler Pro League last summer, and arguably neither have the quality or at least potential that Diatta holds. The Senegalese winger has also impressed in Europe this season too, as proven at the Bernabeu as Brugge surprised European giants Real Madrid, by snatching a point. Significantly, Diatta was utilised as the right wing-back in their 3-5-2 system, and although he demonstrated his effectiveness on the break, it was his defensive contribution that was most impressive as he dealt with Eden Hazard quite well.
In fairness, the likelihood of this type of move, for a position of obvious importance for the side is probably (and unfortunately) quite low. Diatta resembles a gamble that as already noted in the other parts of this series, doesn’t necessarily fit the Marcel Brands barometer just yet, and with money seemingly limited this summer, the club will arguably want a sure deal. But the Brugge winger is in some ways, the type of signing that a lot of people probably would have expected when he was appointed in 2018. Brands’ spell at both AZ Alkmaar and PSV established the Dutchman as the meticulous talent-finder that Everton could rely on, in the hope that his signing would help the club thrive and succeed without spending masses on known-superstars. The signing of Diatta though would at least signal a step in the right direction.
David Brooks –
- Nationality: Welsh
- Age: 22
- Club: Bournemouth
- Position: Right-Midfield
- Other Positions: Attacking-Midfield
- TransferMarkt Value: £21.60m
- Expected Value: £22-28m
Club Brugge’s Krepin Diatta would certainly class as the risky option for Everton this summer, Bournemouth’s David Brooks meanwhile, would be the opposite. The Welsh international burst onto the scene during the 2017/18 season in Chris Wilder’s high-flying Sheffield United side, before making the move to the South-Coast last summer. The fact that he was able to break into the Sheffield United squad alone emphasises the talent and character that make him such an attractive proposition.
Following his breakout season in the Championship, Brooks backed-up his plaudits with a stellar first season in the top flight, quickly becoming one of Bournemouth’s most integral players and though their failings this season has many causes, Brooks’ injury problems definitely haven’t helped the side.
Stylistically, the Bournemouth midfielder quite simply meets the criteria, if not, is the criteria (if that’s a thing). Surgery on his ankle has clearly stalled his progress over the past 12 months, but his trajectory that was only going one way, and in doing so he demonstrated enough in 18/19 that even if he doesn’t display a couple of strong performances before the season’s end, and rather just keeps himself fit, then he would definitely be worth attempting to sign.
Brooks plucked up just over 2,200 minutes last season which equates to around 25 full 90-minutes, so there’s every reason to believe, that with more consistent game-time in a more offensively-focused set-up, his underlying metrics could take another leap without trying to change too much of his game. Unlike Krepin Diatta for instance, as proven by his underlying metrics, Brooks isn’t the complete right-midfielder but still portrays the key attributes that the club are supposedly looking for. The Welsh international would still add the creative spark needed from that right-midfield position, even if quantity-wise, he isn’t the most of glamorous of playmaking midfielders, albeit his 0.16 xA90 is still fairly good for someone who plays for a side in the lower depths of the table, whilst his totalled tally of 3.9 xA across last season, was still higher than that of Kevin de Bruyne, Diogo Jota and Son Heung-min to name a few. Creatively then, he’s relatively decent, his out-put there, particularly in terms of quantity would almost definitely take a step-up anyway due to just playing in an all-round better side.
In terms of observing his shooting locations, and the expected goals that come from that, throughout the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season at both Sheff Utd and Bournemouth, Brooks average around 0.2 xG90, and although this is a quite an imperfect attempt of judging or predicting what Everton could expect from him in front of goal, that tally would lead to roughly an xG of 7.6 across a 38 game season, which would have Brooks inside the top three for Everton’s best xG performers across the past three seasons.Brooks seemingly fits Everton in all the ways you can think of. On the ball, going forward, his intelligence and vision is evident, always posing a danger on the counter too, whilst his movement and football IQ off the ball is top-notch too – often opening up spaces or exploiting defences with clever faints or effective dummies, it’s only a small part of the game, but it can be heavily effective when needed. But even besides his ingenuity in offensive areas, his work-ethics and defensively responsibility that both Ancelotti and Evertonians will approve of. Bournemouth were one of the worst pressing sides in the league over the last two seasons, often choosing to sit-off and soak up pressure rather than attempting to win the ball back quickly – their PPDA (passes per defensive actions) has ranked 20th and 17th in 18/19 and 19/20, 15.34 and 13.08. Yet Brooks seems an exception in the Bournemouth side, completing 5.57 successful pressures p90 last season (73rd percentile across the top 5 leagues) whilst Ryan Fraser on the other side has averaged just 2.58 over the past two seasons. His defensive work would be a massive plus, a strong work-ethic isn’t always a key thing to look for attacking players, but for a wide-player in a 4-4-2, it’s simply a necessity, and his numbers from last season as well as two seasons of coaching under Chris Wilder should prove that he’d be fine in Ancelotti’s system.
As mentioned before, Brooks has had his injury problems throughout the season and originally, that had put me off any possibility of looking at the Welshman this summer. Yet, with the final stages of the season pushed back, it’s practically given the midfielder the opportunity to put himself in the shop window. The fact is, he’s better than Bournemouth (apologies to any of their fans reading this), but he proved that alone during 2018/19, and with relegation looming, the possibility of him staying if they do go down, is unlikely.
There is every reason to think that the club may regret not moving for Brooks in 2017, before his debut season in the Championship, and just after he’d massively impressed for England’s u20 side in the Toulon Tournament that summer. Twelve months previous they had nicked Calvert-Lewin from the Blades, and in hindsight, they should have done the exact same with Brooks.
In many ways, Brooks ticks all the boxes that Everton would be wanting (to tick) this summer. He’s still just 22, he’s used to playing as the right-midfielder in a 4-4-2, he’s left-footed too so although he’s fine keeping to the by-line as a potential out-ball, he does have the ability to cut inside with the ball or to act as another passing option between-the-lines, almost creating a narrow 4-2-2-2 going forward. His 12 goal contributions in that 18/19 Bournemouth side also emphasise how he would also offer the out-put that the club desire too – a front four that would include Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Brooks, all getting 15+ goal contributions would be an efficient way of squad building. The main blockade to the deal though could be the price that Bournemouth would demand, the club would certainly want a hefty profit for the former Sheffield United midfield, signing for just over £10m two summers ago I’d expect they’ll double that price tag quite easily. Bournemouth’s current finances do not make for good reading though, add that to the risk of relegation and an already depleted market following the impact of Covid-19, Everton could land themselves a bargain.
Emiliano Buendia –
- Nationality: Argentinian
- Age: 23
- Club: Norwich City
- Position: Right-Midfield
- Other Positions: Attacking-Midfield
- TransferMarkt Value: £13.05m
- Expected Value: £25-30m
Amongst some of the best surprise packages in the Premier League this season has been the magnificent Emi Buendia who has been outstanding in his debut season in the top flight of English football, the Argentinian has shone despite playing within the shackles of Daniel Farke’s Norwich City, and in doing so, pending their relegation, will most likely be one of the most wanted players out of the relegated sides this summer. And if it were up to me, Everton would be one of them (even if he doesn’t exactly offer what we need).
As noted throughout this piece, what Everton need most from their new right-midfielder is another source of goals, basing it off his first season in the Premier League, and Buendia isn’t that. But considering his performances so far this season in a fairly underwhelming Norwich side, as well as a high-level 12 months in the Championship last year too, Emi was too good from my viewpoint to leave off the shortlist.
Quite simply, Buendia has been one of the best playmaking midfielders throughout Europe this season, the level he’s reached despite Norwich’s inadequacies this season, has honestly been astounding. His key metrics (as seen below) completely portrays that too. I mean, you don’t have to be a genius to recognise how good he looks.
Primarily, there are a few things to get out of the way before I start waxing lyrical about how good he is. Outside of Cantwell, who isn’t that creative anyway, he’s more of a Gylfi Sigurdsson-esque midfielder (as in he doesn’t do a great amount but he scores some good goals from time to time), there isn’t any other integral part to the Norwich set-up that contributes in the same way that Buendia does. So, it could be easy to infer that his numbers are slightly slanted, in the same way Grealish’s are, they’re still good, but with no one else to share the burden, metrics can sometimes become inflated. The other fundamental aspect, is well, the most important to look at. As a playmaker, he’s like a mini David Silva, but he just doesn’t score enough, and on top of that, he seemingly doesn’t try hard enough to score either. The Argentinian doesn’t shoot often (1.02 p90) and when he does, the quality isn’t there (0.06 xG/shot) – unfortunately, this isn’t a case of the goals will eventually come without much work like when Richarlison signed.
As seen with his shot map (as per Understat), it seems like Buendia just really doesn’t like shooting, the Argentine arguably falls in the category of player that would always pick out a pass rather than take an opportunity on himself, sometimes guilty of trying to just walk it into the net – albeit having watched them quite heavily throughout the season, that could be just a Norwich thing. In a better team then, Buendia would hopefully change this side of his game quite drastically. As Everton progress under Ancelotti, the likelihood is they become a more dominant side with the ball or at least a side that more often than not, creates more shooting opportunities per game than the opposition, and the current Norwich midfielder should benefit from this. Emi’s out-put was slightly better in the Championship last season too (2.2 shots p90 compared to 1.02 p90 this season), which although is a lower level quality, it could give a glimpse into what Buendia could offer in a more offensively-orientated team.
Although Buendia doesn’t actually shoot enough, his locations are actually kind-of (unexpectedly) ok? He’s low out-put generally makes it hard to judge overall, but those locations, with a higher quantity, Buendia could actually pluck up more goals than first thought. What is obvious though, is that his decision making within the box does need some work, but considering the impact Ancelotti has had already in terms of individual players progressing, as well as his history of working with some of the best attackers from the past two decades, Emi would hopefully benefit just as much. On the face of it, his shot locations look relatively solid and in open-play the vast majority clearly come inside the box rather than hopeless efforts out of frustration, but with the locations fine and the quality of the shots rather drab, it indicates that he just doesn’t time his efforts to perfection.
Overall, the aim will of course to try and find a new right-midfielder who can grab 10+ goal as previously pointed out, Buendia probably wouldn’t reach that amount but he could get close, and when you consider how good the rest of his game is, therefore adding an extra supply-line for the front two, it could be worth the sacrifice.
The data visual below simply exemplifies the level he’s been at this season for Norwich, watching him it’s clear he’s far better than Norwich but such metrics like above, just exemplify the level he’s been at the season. In terms of players outside the big six clubs, Emi has simply been in his own world.
In terms of Buendia’s flaws, obviously, he needs to add goals as already pointed out, his creative numbers are amongst the best in Europe, but if he starts scoring too, then you’re looking at one of the best u23 attacking midfielders and although he’s not shown signs of that coming to fruition yet, him playing in a better side, around better players, the club could gamble that with more chances and opportunities in the right areas, the goals would eventually come – even if we’re talking 6 or 7 a season rather than 10-15. Another question mark surrounding the Norwich midfielder would be his attitude off-the-ball, or more prominently, his (lack of) reaction when giving away possession or losing out in ground duels. As mentioned, despite his attacking flair, Buendia strikes you as a hard worker, is an effective counter-presser at times and can be quite the combative midfielder, but too often during games he does appear to get easily frustrated and in consequence becomes sloppy in possession, whether it be by making lazy passes or becoming too easy to shrug off the ball – no winger across Europe’s top 5 leagues for instance, gets dispossessed more than Buendia (2.7 times p90).
Generally, Buendia would be an exciting prospect for the Blues, even if he doesn’t ideally represent the aim for that position. He might not come in and grab you 10+ goals himself from that position, but his overall contribution could possibly be worth the exception. Albeit there’s still every possibility that he would still add 12-14 goals and assists across all competitions – he’s had eight this season (all assists) and twenty across all competitions last season. As your modern-day attacking midfielder, Emi has the necessities, he progresses the ball well and into the right areas, his ball-retention is strong and though he can sometimes be too easy to ease off the ball, he’s pretty press-resistant too. That, combined with stupendous creative numbers and industrious work-ethic around the box, Buendia could turn out to be a special, special player for the toffees, one that could treble his price tag within 12 months. It’s true, that in theory he isn’t what we need, but from a personal perspective, this deal would be too good to ignore.
Noticeably, the list of players that the Everton hierarchy could see as potential targets this summer is quite sparse. Whilst I understand the reasonings as to why Ancelotti favours 4-4-2, the difference the formation has made to the likes of Richarlison & Calvert-Lewin has been a massive plus for instance, but the structure makes it difficult to narrow down a list of players who would suit our requirements. The defined characteristics of Alex Iwobi & Bernard too, means that Everton’s right-midfielder needs to almost complement them as already mentioned perfectly, but their lack of goalscoring out-put practically forces Everton’s hand. We need goals. So far, Krepin Diatta and David Brooks would provide that, Emi Buendia not so much.
In consequence, there is a real possibility that Everton may look for a different mould of player if they’re forced too for that right-midfield slot. Wanting an extra man in the XI who can win games for you, dragging you through matches, another source of goals, all of that is understandably needed but it’s an expensive criterion to meet and unless the club uses their funds wisely (this is Everton we’re talking about) this summer then the likelihood of achieving exactly what or who they want for this position could be a tough ask. Yet, there is a possibility that the club can still bring in a quality player, that can still take the side to the next level, even if it is in a slightly different approach. One example of this would be Lille’s Jonathan Ikone, who despite two solid seasons since his move away from PSG, is still seemingly underrated. Ikone, quite simply, isn’t a prolific goalscorer, seven goals in the last two seasons proves that, but he could still provide the threat that Everton are crying out for.
The French attacking-midfielder specifically impressed me during last summers u21 European Championships, vividly remember one match where he tortured England’s backline in their opening game, in the same game he grabbed a late 89th-minute equaliser to ignite the French comeback. Since the Championships, Ikone has kicked on further following his debut season with Lille and in doing so has displayed some key attributes that could see him become a valuable asset to the current Everton side. When profiling Ikone’s game, the midfielder and his data practically result with the same conclusions. The Lille plays his best game when he’s given the freedom to come narrow, where he can play almost behind the two strikers as just like Everton, the French side set-up with a 4-4-2 but Ikone’s arrival could see Everton adjust almost to a 4-2-2-2 when going forward which would benefit the team’s attempts to breakdown strong defences.
In preferring to play this way, similarly to Bernard or Iwobi, thriving behind the defensive lines, acting as a threat more so outside the box rather than in it, Ikone’s creative numbers are consequently fairly good and have been for the past two seasons. The midfielder plays his best stuff in the attacking thirds, he’s consistently wanting the ball or looking for spaces where he can receive the ball from his teammates, and when his side don’t have it, he’s willing to do the hard-work to pressurise opponents on-the-ball to win it back – only six players attempt more pressures in the attacking third in Ligue 1.
Just like Buendia though, Ikone would be a signing who would demonstrate a type of midfielder who shows his worth by creating opportunities rather than scoring them. Over the past two seasons in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League, he’s averaged 0.19 expected assists, whilst he’s also plucked up 3.41 shot-creating actions in open-play which slots him in the 70th and 77th percentile for those two seasons too which is fairly impressive. Self-evidently, the French midfielder wouldn’t exactly offer what Everton may set-out to buy this summer, but this may not be such a bad thing. The front two of Calvert-Lewin have looked great since Ancelotti’s arrival, and despite there being an upsurge in overall performances since the Italian joined, Everton could still be doing better in the final third and another creative player like Ikone, would offer more opportunities for the attacking pair.
In general, the French midfielder would be an astute signing for the Toffees even if he wouldn’t guarantee 10+ goals himself. When watching Ikone, it’s obvious how talented he is, even if he doesn’t always produce, but still at 22 and with some fairly solid underlying metrics, both in Ligue 1 and in Europe’s top competition, then he could still potentially take another step-up in terms of his own quality and there’s every possibility that he wouldn’t cost a fortune either. He wouldn’t be my first-choice for this position, and there are parts of his game that still need ironing out, but he would still certainly represent an essence of quality into Ancelotti’s starting XI.
Similarly, to Jonathan Ikone, another possible midfield option who would be seen maybe more as a creative or playmaking addition to the Everton side, would be AZ Alkmaar’s young star Calvin Stengs. The Dutch midfielder has had a cracking season in Arne Slot’s debut managerial season, with the young Head Coach utilising Stengs’ wide-range of skills and individual ingenuity throughout a range of positions with the midfielder being used as a traditional #10 or #8, a False 9, or as a traditional right-midfielder too, with Stengs’ versatility and tactical intuition just a snippet of why he could be seen as such as an intriguing addition.
As expected, the Dutch prodigy does come with a sense of risk about him as a current Eredivisie player, but Stengs’ numbers still look quite strong even for the level of the Dutch league and has continued to impress in the Europa League this season too, as seen with his performances in both games against Manchester United.
Stengs, similar to the already described Ikone, flourishes when cutting-in onto his left-foot from the right-side, or preferably when he can receive the ball in the pockets between the opposition’s midfield and defence. Technically, as seen even through the clips in his game vs United, Stengs looks good, aesthetically he appears both comfortable and quite polished despite his age, and with his physical stature, defenders can find it tough to take the ball off him.
In theory, he epitomises the modern-winger, he’s packed with quality on the ball, flair, pace, and tenacity off it too but still acts almost like an attacking-midfielder or inside forward rather than a traditional wide-midfielder. Stengs’ best moments in games is when he gets on the ball, when watching the Dutchman it’s obvious where his intentions always lie, constantly attempting to play balls forward, or carrying it into dangerous areas – his 2.73 progressive runs p90 whilst he attempts 5.42 attempted passes into the penalty area backs this up too. The AZ man is both direct and progressive, he wants the ball and despite his youthfulness, he still knows where to play it and when’s best to do so.
Stengs plucked up 19 goal involvements in all competitions this season, and in doing so will have plenty of suitors across Europe’s big 5 leagues. The midfielder has a stunning skillset, he needs to improve in front of goal for sure but that could come with experience and with increased coaching time under Ancelotti & co. Even despite that though, Everton could end up with a potential star.
As proven with both Ikone and Stengs, there are two different options for the club who would possibly represent more value for money. Yet, if the club are willing or are able to ‘break the bank’ almost this summer, then one player who could represent a shrewd move, would be Watford’s Ismaila Sarr – but this signing, less so than Brooks and Buendia with Bournemouth and Norwich – would surely depend on Watford’s position in the Premier League. An outlay of nearly £30m last summer, from a club who had spent over £15m just once on a single player since their promotion in 2015, suggests how highly-rated they saw him in the first place. But that £30m figure (£27m to be exact) would likely be the biggest stumbling block for this transfer. With relegation, Sarr could end up forcing a move but Watford would surely want to at least receive the same fee that they paid last summer. In fact, the price tag that Watford could demand is realistically the only thing preventing Sarr being amongst Diatta, Brooks and Buendia as my key targets.
Despite his slow start since his summer move, Sarr making just two starts in the Premier League before December, the Senegalese international is now bearing fruits and since the turn of the year has started to demonstrate why he was so highly thought of at Rennes, this is a young winger who bagged 24 goal involvements for club and country last season – his 14 goals and 10 assists from an xG of 11.07 and an xA of 11.51 suggest it was no fluke either.
As per the data, Sarr, despite hardly meeting the heights in raw numbers compared to what may have been originally expected from him this season, his underlying metrics from his debut Premier League season have still been good, similar even to Richarlison’s 17/18 season which resulted in Everton spending £35m to bring the Brazilian up north. Richy had an xG and XA p90 of 0.32 and 0.11, whereas Sarr is currently performing at of 0.36 and 0.10 p90. The comparisons between the two players would be incessant if Sarr followed Richarlison’s path, but outside having similar key metrics in front of goal, the players both profile somewhat differently.
The former Metz youngster is in many ways, the type of wide-player that Everton are crying out for, and if we played more of a dynamic 4-3-3, then Sarr would be the one. Even in a 4-4-2 though, Ismaila Sarr is still probably the ideal fit. The Watford man has a fairly big frame and uses it well when trying to beat opponents 1v1, his physicality, adjoined by his pace and his efficient dribbling ability, Sarr at times, as seen with the infamous match vs Liverpool a few months back, can appear colossal with the ball at his feet, the type of winger that engrains dread into the opposition. His direct approach, causing havoc in the right areas, being used as an integral piece to stretch other sides, makes for pleasant reading as in contrast to the likes of Iwobi, Bernard, Walcott or even Anthony Gordon, Everton simply don’t have the type of wide-player to do that and in the recent home game vs Leicester that was obvious. Whilst both Iwobi and Gordon played well in the game, Dom & Richy remained quite isolated and even when they had the chance to get on the ball, to relieve pressure and run at their defence, the lack of options bursting past them was vivid – add an Ismaila Sarr-esque player, and Everton could have picked Leicester off on the counter before half-time.
Defensively, Watford’s structure off-the-ball under Nigel Pearson usually sees them shift into a mid-block 4-4-2 with Sarr deployed as the right-midfielder and in doing so, would be used to the task that he would be asked to do by Everton’s coaching staff. He does at times portray his inexperience or vulnerabilities when Watford are forced back to defend, and whilst he is a hard-worker (5.23 successful pressures), his concentration can at times go amiss, whether it be through being unaware of the space around him or just not tracking runners.In essence though, even in a 4-4-2 in which Ancelotti demands defensive solidarity over anything else, Sarr could end up being the top choice for Everton this summer. The big man is explosive running into space, is comfortable coming short for the ball or when asked to run in-behind, and importantly, would add the goals to the side that Everton need. He would cost, but there’s no denying he would be worth it.
Carlo Ancelotti’s insistence on 4-4-2 will likely be unchanged whilst he’s here, but as portrayed throughout the article, with Everton’s criteria seemingly focused towards a particular type of player, the amount of names that are suitable is not vast. Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze could be an option but would definitely be on the expensive side and there are question marks over whether he’d actually bring what the side needs, David Neres and heavily linked Cengiz Under arguably fit into the same category. Dwight McNeil could be another target, though largely played as a left-midfielder (I personally see his future cutting in from the right), but would suit the constraints of 4-4-2 and has some superb creative numbers, but again wouldn’t offer the goalscoring threat or explosiveness that we probably want.
Whilst Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, Juventus’ Dejan Kulusevski, or Barcelona’s Francisco Trincão could all be possible options if the club decides to look at a loan deal instead.
In Krepin Diatta, David Brooks and Emiliano Buendia, as well as the likes of Stengs, Ikone and Ismaila Sarr, there are options out there that would improve the team big time, and ultimately that has to be the priority this summer. Throughout this transfer series, I’ve argued for the club to start spending more conservatively, or at least be a bit more diligent with their money – right-back, centre-back and central-midfield can all be upgraded upon without spending hideous amounts this summer, but the right-midfield slot is an exception. To get what Ancelotti needs, spending below £20-25m will be unlikely, and it, therefore, might be a case of sacrificing bigger fees for right-back or centre-back, to guarantee that the club can get the right man out-wide.
If that is the case, and Everton decide to keep Kenny, and pick up a bargain of a new centre-back, whether it be Jean-Clair Todibo on loan or Mohammed Salisu with his £10m release clause, that could enable Everton to break the bank for Ismaila Sarr. Despite putting him within the potential wildcard options, Sarr would likely be my first-choice for the club this summer, the reality of a front four of Sarr-DCL-Richarlison-Iwobi could catapult Everton into contention for top four next season, never mind the top 6.