Looking for the Man in the Middle

Adam McCulloch 06/01/2017 26comments  |  Jump to last

So far a good week for us Blues. We started the New Year off with three goals and three points against a side we were pitiful against only a few weeks earlier. For once we were treated to an AGM with positive news, and even the (admittedly still hazy) prospect of a stadium on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey. We even did a very un-Everton thing and not only went and splashed some money but did so at the beginning of the transfer window. Oh and some bloke called Usmanov decided he’d love nothing more than spraying some cash on our training ground.

Of course, we are Everton so no doubt we will plod out of the cup on Saturday and then those rose-tinted spectacles will fall to the floor faster than Wilfred Zaha. But while I am still feeling positive, I thought I would tempt fate and look at a signing yet to be confirmed: enter Morgan Schneiderlin.

The first alarm bells to be raised about this move (besides the lack of confirmation) is that on paper it is yet another Manchester United cast-off. Although not all of our business with them has been bad – Tim Howard was great until the final season or two – it feels like we often got the raw end of the deal. Players like Neville, Saha and particularly Darron Gibson were coming to the end of undistinguished spells down the M62 and as such were never going to set the world on fire at Goodison Park. Even thinking about that new contract for Gibson makes me shudder.

Yet this is not the case with this piece of business. If we were bringing an ageing Rooney back or even re-signing Fellaini, then I would expect a few more furrowed brows. But Schneiderlin is a different beast. He is 27, coming into his prime, a French international with Premier League experience in a position where we need quality.

Has he underperformed at Manchester United? I would argue no. He is a victim of a confused transfer policy at a club that has just blown a world record sum on a midfielder they lost to Juventus on a free. He is a casualty of being a more understated, underrated name in a team that has Herrera, Mata, Mkhitaryan and more to squeeze into midfield. He is not an expensive mistake, which is why his club seem to be digging their heels in and seeking to recoup the £24million they forked out to sign him.

All of this sounds a bit better than a Man U reject, but what else has got me excited about this move is that this one truly feels like a Koeman signing. Not only has he worked with Schneiderlin up close but he is the kind of all-round, box-to-box midfielder that he clearly felt we need in the summer. Unlike Witsel (now off to China) or Sissoko (no longer an Arsenal fan by all accounts), his character also seems to be spot on; there have been no bad noises emanating in the media despite his lack of playing time this season. He also has that feel of a Steve Walsh personality as well; a player who has risen through the ranks from a struggling Strasbourg side to Championship football with Southampton and beyond. Oh, and he’s a statto’s dream.

That’s because Scheniderlin is up there with Idrissa Gueye when it comes to interceptions. He is a renowned tackler. He creates chances, he is physically imposing but quick. He is comfortable on the ball in tight areas and he loves to spray the ball out wide to the flanks (a tactic Koeman seems to be keen to employ). He even chips in with a few goals. He won the Stats Zone Premier League Central Midfielder of the Year award in FourFourTwo magazine back in 2013, with 139 interceptions and 146 tackles. For comparison, N’Golo Kante managed 156 interceptions and 175 tackles for Leicester last year. Manchester United were also a demonstrably more solid side when Schneiderlin played: they lost seven times in all competitions but only once when he started, keeping clean sheets in 10 of the 16 games he played. He also had the highest pass completion rate, highest number of tackles and the second highest interceptions at the halfway stage of last season. Link to Stats

At the time of Kante’s heroics in the Leicester engine room, Steve Walsh claimed that the French midfielder essentially made Leicester a 12-man team with his work rate. If Gueye is our own tireless runner, then Schneiderlin is Danny Drinkwater beside him (another cast-off who came good). For Manchester United last year Schneiderlin played 100 accurate long balls in the Premier League from 29 starts; for Southampton he managed 133 from 26 starts in his final season at St Mary’s.

Koeman as a player was renowned for ability to launch the ball from deep, and with the current obsession with pressing, it is a useful outlet to have. How many times have we seen our play stall in central areas, a symptom of the Martinez days of possession at all costs and a lack of nous in midfield? The Gareth Barry of a few years ago could handle that role reasonably well but Schneiderlin is far more mobile and less of a booking waiting to happen.

I also believe that his maturity and calmness on the ball will give some of our more inconsistent performers a better foundation on which to build. With Schneiderlin in the middle we can allow Barkley, Mirallas, Deulofeu (if he stays) and others to take risks higher up the pitch. Barkley and Lukaku running ever deeper to get the ball and try to make something happen will be less of a concern. When we lose the ball with players like Barry in midfield, we are always likely to get stung on the counterattack but a quick player with a knack for interceptions, we are going to look more solid.

Schneiderlin would also bring some much needed height and presence in defensive situations, a massive plus considering the physical nature of the league and Koeman’s comments following the Watford defeat. He said that "Every team who doesn’t have that physicality in a team will struggle."

The teams leading the way in the league this year all have players in the middle with some stature - Matic, Dembele, Toure, etc – and is an area we have been lacking in for some time.

IF we can get this deal over the line, I think it could prove a very astute piece of business. The player has a point to prove, is experienced but has his best five years or so ahead of him.

Do we still need reinforcements in other areas? Yes, particularly our creaking backline. Would we still need a little more guile in midfield? Again, yes, particularly against teams that set out to nullify our attacking threat. But Morgan Schneiderlin will improve our squad and make up for those deficiencies.

He is someone to build a squad around. He is a statement of intent and not the kind of mercenary midfielder we could have easily landed in the summer. Come on Blues, let’s get this one signed, sealed and delivered. You never know, the way this week has gone we might even end up with Riquelme lining up alongside him.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Danny Broderick
1 Posted 06/01/2017 at 22:53:58
The thought of buying him has grown on me, because Barry is not getting any younger, and Gueye is going to the ACN. The backup that we have for these players isn't great – Besic, McCarthy and Gibson are too injury prone, and Cleverley not good enough.

Schneiderlin's stats are obviously good for interceptions and tackles. This could help us to be stronger in the middle of the pitch, and tighter in defence. But the real problem area for us is in front of that.

I'll trust the management on this one. £20m seems a lot of money to me. Time will tell. We need more than this though, a 2nd striker is an obvious priority...

Tony Hill
2 Posted 06/01/2017 at 23:01:00
Nice piece, I think this fella could be crucial, actually, and I'm very keen to get him in. Mourinho is a fuckwit.
Dermot O'Brien
3 Posted 06/01/2017 at 23:27:53
Please please please!

Gana, Morgan and Ross. Holy Trinity Mark 2

Mike Gaynes
4 Posted 06/01/2017 at 23:43:05
Superbly researched article, Adam. Great job of finding all those statistics. And I couldn't agree more with your views, top to bottom.

I was a huge Schneiderlin admirer a couple of years ago and was crushed when Man Utd landed him. If they're damn fool enough to drop him, that's a brilliant stroke of luck for us.

I will be celebrating when the deal gets done.

Peter McHugh
5 Posted 07/01/2017 at 00:46:49
Don't know much about him aside from Le Tissier waxing lyrical about him when he was at Southampton. Your article has me very excited.
Nigel Gregson
6 Posted 07/01/2017 at 01:17:55
Sign him up right away. He's the long-term successor to Barry.
Anthony Dwyer
7 Posted 07/01/2017 at 01:19:06
I'm happy to see Schneiderlin brought into the club.

If I had it my way, I'd be looking at someone with more craft in the mould of Fabregas, Ramsey or young Will Hughes, but hey I'm not the man at the top; Ronny is, and he seems to want Morgan... so why not?

Mick Davies
8 Posted 07/01/2017 at 01:20:02
Moanio has said there is 0% chance of him leaving Man Utd in January.
Don Alexander
9 Posted 07/01/2017 at 01:40:46
Dermot, can I have a pint of what you're having?
John Daley
10 Posted 07/01/2017 at 01:52:12
Mick (@8),

He said there's no chance of him leaving if the bids on the table aren't increased. Seems they want to recoup the full £24m Southampton took them for.

Derek Thomas
11 Posted 07/01/2017 at 02:06:57
Given that 6 months ago, fees nearly doubled – call it +70%, then £24M is the new £14M (McCarthy anybody?)...

Stop fucking around over £3 or 4M and get it done now... before that crafty snide Maureen plays him in a rested / rotated cup side and fucks us over for the later rounds.

Neil Cremin
12 Posted 07/01/2017 at 08:12:41
I agree, we need a creative midfielder but for years we have needed a commanding young centre half (<30). We are constantly leaking goals which ends up with us forcing the game to get back on terms. In Moyes's heyday, how many matches did we win 1-0?
John G Davies
14 Posted 07/01/2017 at 08:38:08
Adam. Spot on.

Gana and Morgan partnership would be perfect.

Dermot O'Brien
15 Posted 07/01/2017 at 09:12:38
Don, in fairness I was on the BlackBush. But don't have a pint of that or you will see the real Holy Trinity!
Brian Williams
16 Posted 07/01/2017 at 09:19:12
Don't mind a bit of blackbush meself.
Dermot O'Brien
17 Posted 07/01/2017 at 09:44:03
Great thing to ask a barmaid:

"Do you have any Black Bush?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Whiskey, the whiskey please"

Eddie Dunn
18 Posted 07/01/2017 at 09:55:05
We just need to pay-up and get him on board. £20m or £24m, who cares?
Dave Abrahams
19 Posted 07/01/2017 at 10:20:04
I agree entirely, Adam, he will suit Everton fine. I was convinced about this lad since the move was first hinted at over a month ago.

Incidentally, the stats add nothing to the argument, when you see a player, you know instantly, or after a few games, whether he is good or poor. This lad is good.

Barry Pearce
20 Posted 07/01/2017 at 11:25:53
Just get him signed – quality player.
Steve Cotton
21 Posted 07/01/2017 at 11:56:39
He is currently on £150k a week…..
Terry Underwood
22 Posted 07/01/2017 at 12:19:41
I get the feeling that the "special one" may spit the dummy here over the Stones no-go to Chelski... this guy likes to get his own way and may come over all vindictive
Brian Harrison
23 Posted 07/01/2017 at 12:36:41
I can't understand what has happened with Schneiderlin; he was rated very highly at Southampton, before Van Gaal signed him. Then he seemed to fall out of favour, so much so that Van Gaal preferred Fellaini to him.

Now that Mourhino has gone there he too prefers Fellaini to Schneiderlin. Now if you asked most fans would you want Fellaini back for £24 million I think most would say "No thanks".

Yet many want Schneiderlin even though his last 2 managers don't fancy him.

Mike Dolan
24 Posted 07/01/2017 at 16:38:47
Schneiderlin would be a perfect signing for Everton for all the reasons Adam stated. He is total class all steel and elegance . Very well written piece, Adam.
Andy Meighan
25 Posted 07/01/2017 at 19:17:00
Played 11 minutes of football all season and, all of a sudden, he's going to walk into our side and transform our season

The naivety of some of our supporters is astonishing! He may or not be a good player but, right now, we need a lot more than some Man Utd reject... Which, let's face it, he is, isn't he?

Ian McKenna
26 Posted 08/01/2017 at 10:35:26
Agree with everything you say, Adam. Great piece. Schneiderlin will improve us significantly. Hope this deal gets done. The stats provide the evidence but as Dave (#19) says, you can see the guy is class just by watching him.
Steavey Buckley
27 Posted 08/01/2017 at 10:54:25
Since Everton have nothing to play for until the end of the season, Schneiderlin would be an expensive acquisition at £24 million .

When the next season starts, when Everton may need Schneiderlin, he will be closer to being 28 years of age. Again, £24 million punds is not value for money of a player at that age. More like £15 million would be closer to his real value.

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