Tom Davies is one of few academy graduates to get a great amount of minutes in the past decade. The 22-year-old has tallied up 117 appearances in the Premier League since then and even became the youngest player to captain our side.
As shown this season, Davies is necessary to our current midfield, even with Allan and Doucoure joining us last summer. Carlo Ancelotti has proven this with his team selections this season, and Davies’ consistent runs in the team.
How Ancelotti thinks
The Italian manager started with a regular midfield of Andre Gomes, Allan and Doucoure during the September start. The first league game Allan didn’t feature was against Brighton, Davies stood in for him instead alongside the two center-midfielders.
This clearly didn’t work in Ancelotti’s eyes, as Davies hasn’t been played in a midfield three since then. Ancelotti seemed resolute in playing his two new signings in every fixture. But something else is apparent.
Any game in which Allan has not played in the league, Davies has, with the exception of our most recent games against Newcastle and Leeds.
Davies has been played in a midfield partnership in either a 3-4-3, a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 instead of the 4-3-3 Everton were playing before.
Though this is partially due to injuries to James Rodriguez and Lucas Digne, it was obvious the manager didn’t want him in a midfield three as the holding midfielder.
Despite this, Ancelotti clearly deemed his presence necessary without Allan, and so included him next to Doucoure or Gomes ever since Allan injured his hamstring. So why does Ancelotti see Davies as indispensable without Allan available?
Defensive abilities in Everton’s midfield
To see how well Everton’s midfield cope, I looked at Davies, Doucoure and Gomes’ defensive stats per 90 minutes since they joined the Premier League.
I excluded Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fabian Delph as their time plating in such vastly different positions doesn’t make any comparisons fair, and Delph’s playing time is very limited.
I also didn’t include Allan as he has only had 12 starts in the league so far and using Serie A statistics would have been incomparable.
With that being said, let’s have a look at how the three midfielders equate to each other defensively.
The first thing that sticks out is the Gomes trails on every account.
In fact, one of the only defensive statistics he’s “better” than the other two in is that he fouls far more per game (2.37 compared to Doucoure’s 1.16 and Davies’ 1.58).
Another statistic that Gomes flourishes in is that he is dispossessed 0.5 more times a game than either of the others. This is while a lot of Doucoure’s statistics have him in a relegation-bound Watford.
Passing is where Davies’ statistics look more shaky. He averages just 40.65 passes per game, while Gomes and Doucoure average 53.31 and 55.12 respectively. His pass completion, at 79.6%, is 3.6% lower than Doucoure’s, and 5.13% lower than Gomes’.
According to FBref via StatsBomb data, Davies isn’t the most progressive of our midfielders. Gomes (3.91 p90) completes more progressive passes than the academy graduate (2.77 p90), whilst he also trails the midfield three in terms of final third and key passes.
Davies and Doucoure are both solid defensively, and Gomes and Doucoure are better in transition forward (as good as a current Everton midfield can be).
Why can’t Gomes be trusted in a midfield two? Because Everton desperately need Doucoure going forward.
Doucoure has a minutes per goal of 692 in the league, which is half of Davies’. But beyond this he can contribute to the attacking momentum by passing out to the wingers or driving the ball forward.
If we need Doucoure going forward, then Gomes can’t be left to defend. He’s beneath our other midfielders in most calculable defensive measures, and most of the many fouls he concedes are in dangerous areas.
The Liverpudlian academy graduate, on the other hand, manages in the holding midfield role a lot better.
Though he can’t manage as well as Allan, it’s clear why he’s second choice for the role, and why Ancelotti wants at least one of them on the pitch at any time.
Davies’ practical defending
This clip against Wolves in the 18/19 season is a great example of what Davies can do exceptionally.
As noted in the video, he knows that he must commit to the ball to stop the attacker having a run towards the three defenders. He is also aware that this creates space behind him, and so if the attacker decides to try and run into space behind Davies’, this would be too dangerous to allow.
What should also be seen in this clip is the time in the game and the score. It’s late into the game and the defence isn’t strong. We had already taken off both starting fullbacks.
The score is 3-1. With about 15 minutes remaining, another Wolves goal would take us completely out of the competition. All these things equate to Davies making a necessary foul on attacker, allowing us to restructure our defence and be more solid (as solid as Everton could be defending a set-piece under Marco Silva).
The Leeds Game
So, what happened in the Leeds game? We had neither Allan or Davies and still won. This is partly thanks to Doucoure.
Doucoure played a deeper role, than normal, covering the holding position that Davies or Allan usually does.
This allowed Gomes to progress forward and get passes out to Digne (how we scored).
This, however, is not the answer without Allan. Doucoure may be effective in the holding role, put he is a lot more effective in a box-to-box role, allowing him to push forward in attacks.
Neither Gomes nor Sigurdsson can cover defensively so he must remain back. This is not the way to get the most out of the available players.
Why we need Tom Davies
The midfielder might not be first team quality, with his lack of ability in the transition and progression. Everton doesn’t need Davies to be good at passing. There are other players that can bring that onto the pitch.
When Allan isn’t on the pitch, Davies has to be, to be a necessary cover in front of the defence and protect the back four. There is no one else on the team more capable, or more suitable to cover Allan’s position when he’s not available.