Carlo Ancelotti is on the verge of his first major signing as his Everton ‘evolution’ starts to make headway, with midfielder, Allan, reportedly close to signing for a deal worth around €25m. The Brazilian has played an integral role in Napoli’s surging development in recent years, especially under Maurizio Sarri, in which he was seen as his first marquee signing (£10.35m) in the Italian’s debut summer at the club. Combining with the likes of Marek Hamsik and Jorginho in Sarri’s midfield trio, Napoli quickly became the best of the rest outside of the Juventus dominance as they showcased both an attractive and effective brand of football that had a clear emphasis on clever movement and efficient ball retention, something desperately lacking at Everton.
Following the departure of Sarri, and the appointment of our current gaffer, Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli’s style or at least emphasis in the way they both attacked and defended changed, switching to a more rigid 4-4-2, and in doing so Allan’s role adjusted in alignment to the needs of the former Real Madrid & AC Milan manager. But it’s this, the experience of playing under Ancelotti already, especially in the middle of his 4-4-2, that could make this signing far more significant than any other reported options.
In this piece, there will be a distinct look at Allan’s underlying metrics at Napoli, as well as his influence in and out of possession, and how his habits and uses may translate over to the Blues, but first, what type of midfielder is he, what does he do, and how can/will Everton use him?
If you base it off the Allan that thrived under Sarri, he should, in many ways go some distance in filling the Idrissa Gueye shaped-hole at Everton, someone who’ll push up and aid the side’s press, forcing opponents into mistakes and turning the ball over in key areas, his best stuff comes when he can play box-to-box, given freedom in his positioning, almost like a defensive number #8 – a role that’s becoming more common across European football at the highest level. He played in offensive areas, high up the pitch, doing defensive work but not as a conventional defensive midfielder, as represented through the heat maps from his last three seasons, under Sarri, Ancelotti and Gattuso.
Trying to fit this type of player in Everton’s current set-up could cause quite the predicament for Ancelotti – but that’s why he’s earning his millions. Everton play 4-4-2, Ancelotti did the same with Napoli, so I can’t see that changing, which means in the middle, it’ll likely be the Brazilian, plus another. To work, in the double pivot of any 4-4-2, you need at least two things; midfielders who complement each other, and legs (obviously not as an object, rather ones attached to players that can move quite tirelessly). Whether Allan has the latter or not, especially the type suited to the Premier League, is something that can’t be answered until he plays here, though I do have my doubts. At times in Serie A, he’s shown exactly what we need, less so in his adjusted role under Ancelotti (more on that later), yet he still did the “dirty work” for those around him – chasing lost causes, snapping at ankles etc – but it’s so significant to stress that there is such a difference in doing that in Italy, than in the Premier League.
This results in added complexity to the first point, who in the squad complements *him* the most, who does *he* complement the most, and who could take on the mantle of doing large parts of his running in an attempt to soften his ‘transition period’? The likelihood is the only one who meets that criteria, is the former Mainz midfielder that remains crippled.
Someone who would provide the type of athleticism or directness needed would be the constantly-linked Abdoulaye Doucoure. It would be an expensive duo, but they’d fit together effortlessly, probably combining to be the best midfield pairing that the club has had in some time.
The pair of them are versatile, progressive, and big characters in the dressing room from reading between-the-lines, and importantly, would be a stark contrast from what Carlo has had to deal with in his opening nine months at the club. The signing of both Allan and Doucoure does create some problems though, unless some are sold, which at this stage seems unlikely. The club could be left with a build-up of ageing midfielders with no sell-on value between them (I’m sure the arl fellas will love this part), those two, plus Gomes, Gylfi, and Delph are all above 27, some fans won’t care (which is fine), those involved at the club should though, for obvious reasons. If we can somehow move on the likes of Delph and Sigurdsson (I’d loan Davies personally), great, but then you’ve got four midfielders, costing you nearly £100m, and only two positions to fill, leaving nearly £50m worth sitting on the bench. Again, fans won’t twitch at that, but those at the club should.
The Metrics –
It’s difficult to gauge how well Allan could turn out to be until the window is closed and squads are finalised – mainly to see how he’ll be used and who with – but it’s still understandable as to why Ancelotti see’s the former Udinese man is the alternative to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who swiftly rejected the Blues to join Spurs instead only a few weeks ago.
The two midfielders have had similar roles for their previous clubs, both have been used as their team’s primary ball-winners, sweeping up misplaced passes or poor touches, cleanly pinching the ball when possible, before quickly forcing the ball forwards into dangerous areas. The radar comparison of the two conveys the underlying similarities between them, Allan, playing for a more dominant, possession-based side will have inflated numbers in comparison to the Dane due to the impact of playing in a mid-table Southampton side, but their areas of strengths and weaknesses are alike.
People often slate the club for a lack of direction or more so a lack of cohesiveness, especially when it comes to transfers, Moise Kean was supposedly the club’s pick out of him and Lille’s Rafael Leao (now at Milan) last summer, yet other than age bracket and position, the centre-forwards were not the type that you would identify as identical. At least this time around, the shortlist for midfielders is somewhat comparable.
The metrics of the two players do shine a light on the type of player Ancelotti seems to want in midfield, whether it be in terms of player role or in terms of character. Whilst they both play integral parts in the defensive side, they’re also highly influential in leading their sides too, dictating periods of play, and possessing large amounts of authority from their Head Coach. I don’t think anyone can blame us looking at that type of criteria after those performances following the restart.
As portrayed throughout this piece so far, although he possesses a certain quality and composure on the ball, combined with the industrious ball-winning capability that Everton lost with the departure of Gana Gueye, the Brazilian international is in some ways, a fairly simplistic player and his data matches up with that.
Instantly, it’s quite vivid as to which part of Allan’s game is most prominent, the top four metric areas are all defensively-orientated attributes with his 28.9 pressures p90 combined with his 3.9 tackles demonstrating the terrier-type midfielder that he is – attempt to force errors or turnover opportunities, harry the opposition, win the ball. It’s almost basic when described, but as previously mentioned, it’s something that we’re are starved of. The Napoli midfielder ranks within the top percentiles for midfielders in Serie A, and though Allan has been short of minutes since the arrival of Gennaro Gattuso, the main parts of his game haven’t taken any major hits.
In an oversimplified way, Allan tackles a lot, whether it be just in Italy or in either the Champions League or Europa League, the 29-year-old is consistently producing a high defensive out-put, the type of numbers that tower the out-put of Everton’s current midfielders. There is though, a noticeable drop-off between the amount of tackles and pressures he makes, in comparison to his interceptions (0.9 p90) that is well below the league average, even at pAdj (possession adjusted), his 1.14 interceptions ranks below the median. This goes some way to describe the type of player that he is out of possession, and the surge of interceptions during Ancelotti’s only full season in comparison to this year and the season previous, offers an intriguing portrayal into how the Italian gaffer altered the Brazilian’s role in accordance with his 4-4-2, whilst also to the benefit of Fabian Ruiz, who was far better when allowed to roam both in and out of possession. Good news for Andre Gomes perhaps.
This arguably offers the clearest insight into how Ancelotti will be looking to use Allan, and also goes some way to explaining the supposed interest in Abdoulaye Doucoure too, a player who would complement Allan a lot more than Andre Gomes.
As noted previously, Allan under Sarri was used as a defensive #8 in his possession-based 4-3-3, situating in the right-half space more often than not and pushing up to press with the front three – acting almost as the defensive-line before the actual defensive-line. But following the appointment of Ancelotti, and the shift to 4-4-2, his game evolved over the season with the Italian using the midfielder seemingly more conservatively, especially against a higher-quality opposition – with his positioning and responsibilities becoming far more restrained. In short, Allan went from a free-roaming midfielder, forcing errors high-up the pitch, to a more traditional defensively-minded midfielder, rather someone to sweep up opposition errors and shield the defensive-line behind him. The evidence below is proof of that, with the data conveying the change in Allan’s approach from Sarri’s final season to Ancelotti’s first season.
Although the Brazilian’s numbers in terms of overall pressures and tackles in the middle third stay consistent, there’s an obvious anomaly in terms of where he’s contributing defensively – the amount of pressures in the attacking third drops significantly from 8.61 to 4.98 times p90 under Ancelotti, whereas his tackles attempted in the defensive third rises dramatically from 0.73 (a number than even Richarlison toppled this season) to 1.55 times p90. In isolation, the statistic only conveys a small part of his game, but it again suggests a hint at the Allan we’ll see at Everton.
At times with Napoli, Ancelotti still used the midfielder in his preferred role, with more freedom and a conventional #6 behind him (a bit like a safety net), and I expect we’ll see the “unleashed” version of the Brazilian every now and then in the Premier League. Yet, I suspect the 29-year-old will function mainly deeper for the Toffees for a number of reasons; largely to the benefit of the midfielders preservation – with the risks over adapting and signs already of his “engine” slowing down, and with the expectation that it’ll be either one of Doucoure or Gomes partnering, Allan pushing further forward is the last thing Everton need.
The data overall, suggests a significant improvement on what the football club currently has to resort to, there have definitely been signs of decline over the previous 12 months but the signs are there that prove why Paris Saint-Germain were so keen only a year ago – for most, short-term, that’s all that matters.
In Possession –
As mentioned, a lot of Allan’s progression over the years came under the stewardship of former Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, with their time at Napoli together resulting in the best portrayal of why Everton would want him – while his defensive attributes will be key, the midfielder resembles a smooth ball-progressor with genuine effectiveness – the type of player the side has missed for some time.
Though Everton have coped throughout the years without having a sound ball-player, the side’s switch to 4-4-2 now means this type of player is a priority. With no traditional #10, Everton effectively play with no main, central playmaker, which as per with team’s that play the formation, leads to two obvious attacking characteristics that are seen as necessities; one, you have strong creative outlets out-wide, especially from your full-backs, and two, that you have central-midfielders capable of creating from deep or central players who are at least efficient at progressing the ball into dangerous areas surrounding the box – the club certainly do not have the latter.
Allan won’t necessarily solve Everton’s midfield problems instantly, and he certainly won’t do it alone, but he definitely offers an extra sense of ingenuity that contrasts the club’s current crop. He dwarfs the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes in terms of their attacking contribution that results in opportunities. The use of open-play SCA (shot-creating actions) helps to perfectly demonstrate this too, with Allan involved in 2.92 and 2.81 SCA’s over the past two seasons in Serie A, whereas Sigurdsson has averaged 2.74 and 1.72, Gomes just 1.55 and 1.73 – bare in mind Sigurdsson was used primarily as a #10 under Marco Silva in 18/19, and still, Allan comes out on top. The midfielder benefits playing in a superior side with much better teammates, granted, but he’s proven, even during periods where he’s not been on top-form, that he can be an influential cog during build-up phases.
The above indicates how much of a contrast he could be in comparison to the likes of Davies and Sigurdsson. The clip, from the Europe League fixture vs Arsenal in 2019, shows Allan in acres of space, choosing against the easier options, the simpler 5-yard passes and instead pushes up, exploits Arsenal’s poor shape and high-line, and within a matter of seconds, Napoli are in the box, behind their defence.
Again, this time in the Champions League against Genk, the clip sums up what the Napoli midfielder does best. Presses his opponent, pounces on an error, wins the 50/50 and instead of passing it off to his closest teammate, the Brazilian shows both quality and composure by making room for himself and exploiting the space in-behind, again creating a possible opportunity.
There is an obvious difference in terms of what Allan represents to what his new teammates currently offer, but he doesn’t come without his own flaws. While his passing range, combined with his vision and bravery to try riskier or over-adventurous passes will be a much-welcomed addition to the club, there are still some signs of a hangover in his game from the Sarri days. The former Juventus and Chelsea manager creates tactical systems that thrive off repetition and circuited patterns-of-play, build-up phases that are ingrained into his players – it’s one of the key reasons why he’s supposedly failed at both clubs since Napoli – bigger teams and big-name players are just not suited to rigid systems that rely on less freedom and individual quality. Whilst the system can be hugely beneficial when at its peak, take out a few players or use the same players, but trained by a different manager, and in creep moments of bad habits that are seen in Allan’s game nearly two years after Sarri’s departure.
This part of his game, especially his comfortability with the ball at his feet around our own box, will be quite valuable to how Ancelotti wants to transform the side, but the long-term impacts of Sarri will at times still be a bit obvious. The circuit-based system has become almost instinctive, at times leading to blind passes, lazy decision making, forcing teammates under pressure, often when deeper choosing to just recycle and retain possession rather than attempting to be a bit more aggressive – this both a good thing, and bad.
Like portrayed already, Allan can pierce opposition defences with his passing, the quality is definitely there and it’s something, especially against low-block sides, that I expect we’ll rely on to create clear-cut chances, but largely at Napoli he was seen as the midfielder who would mainly keep possession, recycle between his teammates, allowing the likes of Fabian Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski to be more aggressive or forward-thinking – his 4.2 progressive passes this season shows this, albeit he did average 7.03 last season under Carlo – the former number less than all of Everton’s midfielders last season, the latter bettered only by Lucas Digne (8.96) and Djibril Sidibe (8.42).
This part of his game, the being-able-to-make-the-ball-stick part, is another way in which Allan will replace Idrissa Gueye. Though the former fan-favourite was mainly known for his off-ball work, he was influential in preventing the side from constantly turning the ball over, largely under both Allardyce and Silva, we resorted to long-balls up to Calvert-Lewin, either into the channels or directly to him, and when he lost out, it was up to Gana to sweep up.
I felt like we started to see this tactic again in the latter stages of the season, with our midfield seemingly worsening every week, Calvert-Lewin began to look like his former isolated self, used more so as a lamppost rather than an actual striker. Obviously, our midfield was a huge weakness last season, far too many chances conceded simply down to the lack of presence in that area, but there was also no one to progress the ball efficiently. In consequence, the way Everton attacked under Ancelotti became very narrow and following the restart, teams found it far too easy to defend against us as the spaces around the penalty area was literally left empty – Allan’s quality should go some way to fixing this.
Out of Possession –
Predicting the success that Allan may or may not have is so far difficult, a lot of the impact he’ll have will depend on who he’ll play next to, whether that be Tom Davies, Andre Gomes, or even Abdoulaye Doucoure. Whilst in possession, the way he’s used by Ancelotti may alter in accordance to his midfield partner, but off-the-ball, it’s up to Allan, especially in the defensive areas, to be consistently influential.
As mentioned, whilst Allan has previously flourished as an individual pressing machine in his time at both Napoli and Udinese, he could be used more so as a conventional defensive-midfielders with a lot of his defensive actions in the defensive and middle thirds – especially if Ancelotti sticks with his 4-4-2.
The above is an example of the type of Allan I expect we’ll see a lot of next season – still being aggressive, still harrying his opponents and still attempting to force errors – it’s just where he’s doing said things, that is key. It definitely isn’t his primary position, and especially against high-quality side his positional awareness could be exploited, but he still holds the crucial elements that Ancelotti supposedly wants.
The habits Allan has with the ball is something I’ve already brought up in this piece, but there a few features in his game that do worry me about him adapting to not just as the deeper midfielder in a double-pivot, but also in the Premier League in general. At his peak, the Brazilian was renowned for his engine, his ability to get from one end to the other quite effortlessly, it’s fair to see that part of his game has slowly depreciated – how much that’s down to his legs declining, and how much of that is down to a lack of effort is another thing. This is a concern though, in the games I’ve watched, from periods under Sarri, to Ancelotti, and to Gattuso, the ground he covers definitely seems to be declining, and when games get stretched, he can become some sort of passenger.
As above, against Arsenal last season, with the game stretched in the second half, Allan (wearing #5, bright pink boots) seems unaware of the space behind him, granted is definitely left vulnerable by his teammates, but seems unable to cover the right position – Arsenal play through the gaping gaps and Iwobi eases past. A small sample, but this is a tad worrying and reaffirms the point that if you buy him, you need legs around him.
It’s similar here, Allan gets drawn to possession, Ozil easily plays around him, the defence left unprotected. The lack of help and cover for Allan should be pointed out – Napoli’s overall structure is certainly isn’t great and an Arsenal in full-flow are taking advantage of that. Yet, with the likelihood of it being one of Doucoure and Gomes next to Allan for the foreseeable, it’s a scenario I suspect the midfielder will need to get used to, and fast.
It might sound shocking, but there are flaws to Allan’s game, and he is in no way a guaranteed success over here. Ancelotti clearly has faith in him and having both worked together before, I’d like to think that will at least smoothen the Brazilian’s transition period over to the Premier League.
Whilst his adaptation to the speed of the league is key, especially in how he deals with periods when he won’t be able to dictate the tempo as he’d usually be able to with Napoli, there are parts of his game that shouldn’t be affected by this that the side will profit from pretty quickly. His influence during Napoli’s build-up phases has already been noted, but his movement and use of space is something I’m sure Ancelotti is desperate to add to this Everton side.
Defensively he may not always be completely switched-on, but his intelligence definitely shines through in this part of his game, always roaming for the good of the team, whether it be dropping deep for possession or splitting-wide to cut open other passing-lanes for his teammates. It’s only something minuscule, but it’s still something Everton have struggled with, both under Silva and Ancelotti. The ideas have been evident, the execution less so.
Take the above for instance, Everton toying with possession against a five-man Sheffield United press. Keane has the short options either side with Branthwaite and Sidibe beside him, and whilst Digne hugging the far touchline should arguably the pass to make here anyway, the lack of positional understanding even from just one still seems glaring. Sheff Utd have a five-man press, they’re tight and narrow, leaving space in-behind and out-wide, now where does Everton’s midfield duo find themselves? Clustered together, right in the middle.
I find it baffling that there’s no creativity here, and rather pushing out-wide or further-up, the duo of Davies and Gomes are exactly where Sheff Utd want them – both are visible, neither have room to turn or space to exploit, next to no attempt to distort the opponent’s structure.
Allan will at least provide the opposite to this. We’ve touched already on his ball-playing capabilities but having the know-how to get into the right areas is just as important. More time and work on this time of situation will help too, I’m not entirely sure playing out from the back has been massively worked on yet at Finch Farm, so gradually we should see development anyway – but having, say, Allan and Doucoure instead of Davies and Gomes in these scenarios, should definitely lead to a substantial improvement.
Everton finally having midfielders, or at least one midfielder in Allan, capable of keeping possession and simply not shitting himself, is something I’m very much looking forward too.
In many ways, it’s obvious why Ancelotti would want to bring Allan to the club – a player who’s been at the heart of Italy’s best team outside of Juventus for the past five years, experiencing big European games and has proven himself in the key areas that Evertonians deem necessary. For the vast majority, Ancelotti’s former midfielder is a must buy, and the idea of not wanting him is in some ways unfathomable. It’s understandable as to why, the pedigree is there for all to see. He’s had good performances against Liverpool in the Champions League and is highly thought-of across the European game. There is though, possibly a misconception towards those that want Allan and those that don’t, in that those that don’t appeal to the signing as much as others only feel that way due to his age, and in doing so, disregard the possibility that maybe he isn’t the answer. His age will be a factor for some, for sure, but throughout this piece, the uncertainty over his translation to the Premier League has remained consistent.
On reflection, when you look beyond any form of statistical or eye-test into Allan’s ability, especially as an attempt to foresee the impact he might have at the club, even if you understand the reservations or not, it’s still clear that he should be an improvement on those he is replacing. Would I personally be chasing him if I were in the position of Brands & co? No. Do I understand the reasons behind the club seeing him as their next best option after Højbjerg? Absolutely.
Everton’s midfield has suffered for years, starved of any substantial quality, any hint of decentness on-the-ball gets over-glorified to insufferable levels, it’s that same type of over-excitement that saw most plead for Andre Gomes’ loan to be turned into a permanent transfer last summer. It was the same with Marco Silva in his early stages with the club, it wasn’t great nor was it exciting, but it wasn’t Sam Allardyce. Allan might not solve all of Everton’s midfield problems, he might sign and seriously struggle with the pace and physicality of English football, but, if he can pass a football and throw in a tackle, then the majority of Evertonians will be satisfied.
The excitement may well ware off eventually, as with Gomes, but the transfer nonetheless represents a shift, the first signs of Ancelotti moulding his Everton, an upgrade for sure, a step in the right direction almost definitely. I’m not convinced he’s the perfect signing, he has his good parts and some bad, some good habits and some bad, how his legs fair could well be the determining factor in this transfer, albeit an Abdoulaye Doucoure should help. But, most significantly, Allan is a signing that increasingly diminishes the possibility of us seeing a midfield duo containing Fabian Delph and Gylfi Sigurdsson, and for some right now, that is enough.