Why Gordon Needs a First-Team Return

The Everton academy graduate has struggled to get into Carlo Ancelotti’s starting line-up for the start of this season. The recent signing of James Rodriguez has forced the 6’0” Liverpudlian off the pitch and barely onto Ancelotti’s bench.

Should Anthony Gordon be given a chance to break back into the first team with such prestigious candidates for his position? Who would need to give up their space to allow him in?

The 19-year-old has competition for the left-wing position in the form of the more experienced players Bernard and Alex Iwobi. Richarlison has also moved from centre forward where he was playing in the 4-2-2 to his preferred wider position, making it even more difficult to start for the teenager.

“I love, I love this. It means they are really interested to do a proper job.”

– Ancelotti’s reaction to Gordon proactively asking him how he can get back into the squad.

However, with Theo Walcott away on loan at Southampton, James Rodriguez is the only clear option to play on the right wing; is there an opportunity for Gordon to gain experience on the other flank if James can’t play… or if he plays in a different position?

Everton’s current 4-3-3 formation was unable to break down Southampton on Sunday, so Ancelotti could look to change this around, and this could be the opportunity Gordon needs to push on into our 20/21 season starting XI.

Gordon vs Bernard

Bernard seems to be the obvious comparison to Gordon in that they are in direct competition for their places. Richarlison will start for the team regardless of formation and so it is unfair to compare him against Everton’s local prospect.

How can you see if Gordon bests Bernard individually? Looking at 19/20 statistics, Gordon played under five matches worth of minutes, compared to Bernard playing just over 14, so statistics will be per 90 to make it a more even contest.

With that being said, the 440 minutes that Gordon played in the 19/20 season is a small sample size to grasp quality, and so this comparison is not perfect, but can give an approximation of the quality of the two in competition for the position.

Defensively, both players are similar in the 19/20 season. Gordon leads in interceptions, having 1.64 per match compared to Bernard’s 1.13.

This is equalled by Bernard leading in another defensive area, having an average of 0.49 clearances per game to Gordon’s 0.2.

 The two wingers are almost identical in tackles as well, both attempted 2.25 per 90 minutes. However, on the effectiveness of them, Bernard edges the percent of successful tackles by 5.2%.

This shows that both are nearly indistinguishable between each-other in terms of defensive ability. The only real difference is Gordon’s height advantage, or rather Bernard’s height disadvantage, that could become a factor when challenging for the ball in the air.

The Brazilian has 14.92 more passes per match, but the pair’s pass percentage, as well as their pass forward percentage, are almost identical.

Gordon has shown to be better in possession though, being dispossessed less often than Bernard. This shows that neither of them is much more able in build-up play than the other.

Bernard and Gordon are comparable in defence and other aspects of the game. This brings the comparisons to their attacking capabilities, which are by far the most important aspect for a winger.

Rightly, their attacking output and performances should be what they are judged on most, and what ultimately shows who is the better option in Ancelotti’s squad.

Goals and assists are almost irrelevant in this conversation. 440 minutes is not enough time for Gordon to prove himself in front of goal.

In a sport such as basketball, the abundance of scoring means it may be worth comparing. In football, the scarcity and importance of every goal is both what makes it exciting and what makes it unreasonable to blame Gordon for having just one contribution, when his time on the pitch has been separated between 11 occasions of varying lengths.

Instead, it is better to look at how both players go about creating chances for Everton.

Bernard has almost twice as many crosses for the blues, whereas Gordon has close to twice as many through balls.

To understand how important these two statistics are, context is important.

One advantage that any left winger has when in the Everton team is Lucas Digne. The left back has immense ability overlapping down the wing and crossing into the box. Interplay with Digne is important for the winger. Notably for Gordon, it was Digne’s headed through ball into his path that led to Gordon’s first Premier League assist.

Between crosses and through balls, the winger’s ability to play the ball between the defenders to an on-rushing attacker is far more important than to cross. Digne covers the need for an effective left sided crosser of the ball well.

In the context of Everton, Gordon’s attacking skillset should fit better. He can run more centrally, and if we continued to play 4-3-3, he could run behind the number nine, acting as a number 10 at times to push balls through to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and out to James on the other wing.

With all this said, preferences in specific styles of play do not change the most important statistic when talking about the two players, and that’s age.

Bernard is 28 years old. For a player who largely uses agility in his play, it is unlikely that we are going to see him mature into his 30s and become significantly better than he is now. Gordon, on the other hand, is 19. He clearly has potential, and it is unlikely we have seen him peak yet.

If the two players are this similar statistically, isn’t it ridiculous to choose the older player? The advantages of playing the younger player are far more pronounced.

It allows him to gain first-hand experience and start to train young against some of the best defenders in the world. It also allows us to benefit in the long run, as when he matures into his mid-20s on his 5 year contract, we get to reap the rewards of playing him in the team now.

Gordon’s 2019/20 Season in Review

This also, given that the young scouser has played so little, it is worth looking at those performances in slightly more detail individually.

The four performances where he started for the toffees are the fairest to judge him on, as the opposition were at full fitness when defending against him, compared to if he came on later in the game and competed against a more tired defence.

The first of which was the Merseyside derby, at Goodison Park on June, 21, 2020. Gordon was played at the left of a midfield four. Despite Everton managing only 30% possession, Gordon was one of just four Everton players to complete a successful dribble.

As well as this, he made two key passes against a very competent Liverpool side. Though it was not the win many were wanting from the game, Gordon showed a good account of himself for the hour that he played on his first Premier League start.

On to his second start, which was a home fixture against Brendan Rodger’s Leicester. Gordon was played until the 79th minute in this game, a testament to his quality performance as a left midfielder.

In this match, he did move more centrally. This often allows him to make short passes with other midfielders or to make a pass back to the left, where Digne or an overlapping player can make runs in the space he left out wide.

Gordon made two key passes in the game, one going into the feet of Richarlison who fired the chance in within 10 minutes to take an early lead. For now, this remains Gordon’s only goal contribution in the Premier League.

Gordon also performed his defensive duties effectively, making two interceptions (no one else on the team did more), as well as one block, equal to the other three starting midfielders.

Rushing through his last two starts for Everton, which were a 1-1 draw to the Southampton, and a 3-0 defeat at Molineux.

In both, Gordon attempts three dribbles, failing two of which against the saints, while succeeding in all three against Wolves.

Against Southampton, most of his touches were very progressive, but stayed very wide. One of few touches in the centre was a through ball to the attackers.

However, this very wide positioning may have taken an effect as it was the first of these games that he failed to register a key pass. Despite his more central position as a left centre midfielder in a 3-5-2, Gordon failed to produce a key pass against Wolves as well.

What was different about the first two games that allowed him to perform more key passes. One obvious difference is the opposition. Liverpool and Leicester are higher quality sides to Southampton and Wolves. Wolves and Southampton also set up defensively, and so are set up to prevent balls between the lines.

As well as this, Gordon’s wide positioning against Southampton prevented him from coming more centrally where he shone against Leicester. This skill set shows that he could play successfully as an inside forward.

Solving the Jigsaw

Gordon is not being played because to fit on either wing, he has got to compete with James and Richarlison, two of our best players.

Bar them getting injured, the only way to fit Gordon into the side is to move someone into a different position or move someone else out of the team.

Given that, what are the options?

If this question was posed pre 20/21 season, it might have been suggested to drop Calvert-Lewin for Richarlison up front and have Gordon and James on the wings.

However, given his current form, DCL must stay up front. The other option is to change the formation from Ancelotti’s currently favoured 4-3-3.

When not injured, our centre back choices (with the recent addition of Ben Godfrey) allow us the option to play three at the back. However, any position like left wing back would put Gordon in direct competition with Digne.

The only way of making a formation like 3-4-3 work with Gordon would be to have Digne at the left of the back three and given the option to run forward, like the role Tierney is given on occasion at Arsenal. But, diminishing Digne’s attacking output seems naïve when his crossing expertise is currently feeding Calvert-Lewin, who is exceptional in the air.

If these options do not work, then the other option is to push one of the players more centrally.

Gordon is the obvious choice to stay on the wing out the three (him, James and Richarlison). His lack of experience in his own position would not bode well for him being pushed into a very demanding number 10 role.

James has more experience in the role than Richarlison, notably playing number 10 throughout his career for major clubs and his country of Columbia.

A classic number 10 is focused on creativity, of which James has plenty.  The issue is that he is playing well on the wing and pulling him off the right wing creates a big problem for depth in the right-wing position.

Richarlison has many attributes that would make him great for the central attacking midfielder role.

His pace and ball carrying ability make him a great contender. As well as this, a freer positional style where he can roam to either wing to create passing routes for the wingers could help passing and speed of play in the final third.

This would also allow him to get into the box for crosses and chances from the wing. At times he could play more forward as an auxiliary striker and move between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-2-2. Personally, this choice would be the best way of fitting Gordon into the side.

Adding a player does mean that one of Ancelotti’s standard midfield three of Gomes, Doucoure and Allan would have to leave the starting line-up. The clear choice here is Gomes. He is a quality distributor but is more redundant than the other two.

The more demanding defensive duties in a midfield pivot would suit him less than the other two.

The conclusion is 4-2-3-1? Maybe, but if it is, then that’s not as bad as it could be.

The position still strikes a chord with most Evertonians given its prevalence in Marco Silva’s Everton. Personally, it brings the memory of Sheffield United beating us 2-0 early into the 19/20 Premier League season.

There is one key difference to that Everton side and our current Everton side. If you had looked up “Which manager has won the most Champion’s League titles?” after Lys Mousset countered us in 79th minute to take the game away from us, our manager’s name did not come up.

If Carlo Ancelotti wanted to play 4-2-3-1, then he could make it a lot more functional and effective than a former hull manager.

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