Rebuilding the Midfield

by   |   18/06/2022  32 Comments  [Jump to last]

There’s always distractions but, for the good of the club, the No 1 issue now needs to take centre stage. The midfield needs a total rethink, upgrading and made fit for purpose for the current incarnation of Premier League football. Slow ponderous players will get eaten alive and can play no part in a team hoping to win matches.

It’s hard to have a solid debate if we don’t know the core formation Frank is planning. However, I want to explore how we can best improve the midfield to become a consistent, controlled and organised side that also carries more threat.

Can any of our incumbents claim a place in the midfield we want to see?

Doucoure and Allan maybe… Doucoure has regressed and looks confused at times but may be reinvigorated with some stability. Allan’s age is catching up with him, he’s lost a few percent of his pace and, with his game, it matters, but even so, is still an asset.

Gomes has to move on; he won’t play a part.

Tom Davies is fit and is 24 next week so now a senior player, the question marks still remain. He is likely to be kept on the bench as back-up.

Gbamin, even bigger question marks… he probably won’t get games so will be loaned to relieve his wages, but who knows? He may cause a rethink with an outstanding pre-season.

Iwobi – is he a midfielder? He's getting better but it's hard to pigeonhole his position in making the team stable and stronger. Can he be accommodated because of his incredible energy when his bravery and necessary physical commitment as a midfielder remain in doubt?

It’s messy and there are more questions than answers. Where does this leave us in terms of necessary recruitment?

Energy, robustness, tenacity, some goals and assists in their locker are attributes we need. Along with the obvious technical ability to control and pass accurately under pressure.

Gallagher is the obvious one but he will be difficult and could set us back £40M+.
Zinchenko… £25M? I love this player’s attitude, relentlessness, and forward thinking. Such a positive player, still only 25, he would revel in a left-sided midfield position, and be a good addition.

It looks like Frank favours the three at the back so the set-up and midfield could look something like this (ignore defensive selections for now):

Holgate Tarkowski Godfrey
Patterson Gallagher Doucouré Zinchenko Mykolenko
Gordon Calvert-Lewin

With Iwobi, Allan (or his replacement), Davies, Gray, Dobbin and just possibly Gbamin fighting it out to break in.

There’s many variables and possibilities. It’s so important and central to our success that I’d like to find out what anyone else thinks is the answer with regards to midfield players to sign and crucially how they envisage fitting them in to the side?

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Reader Comments (32)

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Robert Tressell
1 Posted 18/06/2022 at 23:20:58
Tony, our present central midfield is really awful and you're right to call it out. Having addressed the defence on the cheap with Tarkowski (presumably a done deal yet to be announced) I hope some of our little kitty will be spent on midfield players.

Gallagher and Zinchenko are cracking players – but I would most like to see some big mobile holding midfielders who can play a bit.

For what it's worth, players like Sander Berge, Ethan Ampadu and Ibrahima Sangare. Or Marc Roca, the Spaniard Leeds have just bought from Bayern Munich.

I think that gives us a better structure for getting the most out of Alli in particular – and the full-backs too.

Paul Birmingham
2 Posted 19/06/2022 at 00:54:42
Tony, good point and Everton need some energy and capability to play a fast tempo game and be stable.

Easy to say but in most games the slow transition from defence to midfield and attack, renders the effectiveness of getting to the kill zone, in terms of genuine goal scoring opportunities, very limited in most Everton matches across the last 7 years.

But some real bite, passion, and street fighting guile, wisdom and flare would be great.

The spirit shown in the last couple of months of last season must be harnessed for this season, and forever.


Henrik Lyngsie
3 Posted 19/06/2022 at 06:53:27
Tony, Good point.

I do agree that we need physicality, speed and technical ability in the midfield. However, the problem with the midfield must be seen and analysed in conjunction with the problem with our defence.

Our midfielders have such poor working conditions that I sometimes feel sorry for them (if there was a Midfielders Union, they should have intervened over the working conditions). This is due to a poorly organised and poorly functioning team where a very big part of the problem is the defence.

Our defensive line tends to be very low which leaves a huge area to be covered by the midfielders. Our defenders cannot play out from the back so we have ended with just playing long balls all the time. Not even Kevin De Bryune would shine in our midfield.

I like Tarkowski for his defensive contributions but I am not convinced that he is the answer to solve the more structural problems with our defence.

Joe McMahon
4 Posted 19/06/2022 at 07:34:19
The fact that Tom Davies is still at Everton, is one of the many reasons we never progress.

I do admire Jonjoe Kenny for taking the initiative and moving on.

Danny O’Neill
5 Posted 19/06/2022 at 08:03:36
We need creativity and also to plug that gap on the assumption our defence is going to remain naturally deep-sitting. It frightens me and I've seen it most weeks for 2 years.

So a genuine holding midfielder or traditional sweeper but then also someone who is creative. I know that's a lot to ask for.

Allan is a leader who can also pick a forward pass. But we're not going to get many more miles out of him. We've had him in the twilight of his career, unfortunately. He'll still do a job, but not as often as we would want.

Davies is a squad player. Doucouré will be fine with the right players around him. If I call Allan a leader, I'd call Doucouré a follower. He needs to be led and told. When he doesn't have that, he turns into an energetic headless chicken.

Iwobi impressed me so much at the end of last season. I hope he carries that form and self-belief forward. Is the modern Number 10 his best position? Maybe not the most creative, but dangerous by virtue of his talent when he uses it and also his unpredictable nature. He even surprises and confuses himself and much as he does us and the opposition.

And Gbamin. I still want to see that lad fit. He could be that holding player or sweeper that plugs the gap.

Either way, I agree. Games are won and lost in midfield. I want us to have a higher pressing defence, but midfield is definitely the focus.

Given our manager is one of the best midfielders of his generation, I'm sure he's got his eye on that area.

Sam Hoare
6 Posted 19/06/2022 at 08:22:36
Tony, yes indeed, central midfield is and has for a long while been a problem area that badly needs addressing.

As Robert @1 says,we have a few midfielders who are decent as box-to-box players, the likes of Doucouré, Iwobi, Allan, Gbamin and maybe Alli do their best work here or in a few cases (Iwobi and Alli) as a possible No 10.

But a proper defensive midfielder who can screen, read the game, make tackles and then distribute is lacking. Allan has fulfilled this role decently at times but lacks positional discipline and pace which is a bad combination as it leaves us badly exposed when he is caught out. Davies has looked okay here at times but also lacks pace.

We need a Bissouma or Kante type player who would let the likes of Doucouré and Iwobi hunt the ball and get forward to create.

Ibrahim Sangare, Ethan Ampadu, Florian Grillitsch, Mo Camara, Florian Grillitsch, Jeando Fuchs, Joao Palhinha, Aster Vranx, Ryan Yates, Billy Gilmour.

There's a variety of options out there. It's a shame we couldn't beat Villa to Kamara as free transfers seem ideal for our current FFP situation.

Further forward, we have more options even if some of them are not effective. Gomes will surely leave and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Gbamin and Alli perform in pre-season, the former could be a central defensive midfielder though it looked to me in his brief appearances that he lacked the reading of the games.

The likes of Zinchenko and especially Gallagher are great players but again they are better suited to play further forward.

Lots of problems to solve.

Here is an interesting analysis of some of the Championship's best midfielders:

Finding the Best Championship Centre Midfielder Purely From Data

Dave Abrahams
7 Posted 19/06/2022 at 08:49:43
John McGinn of Villa is not top notch but an improvement on most of our central midfield players. Alan Stubbs was begging Everton to sign him before he went to Villa for around £3M.

How much would he have saved us and improved us is open to question but he definitely would have done both. That is where the new DOF can maybe start earning his money while improving the squad at realistic transfer fees and wages.

Gary Jones
8 Posted 19/06/2022 at 08:55:56
Dear Summer Santa,

2 x CDM players who:

a) Shield the defence
b) have a real engine and burst pace
c) read the game well
d) stay fit
e) can take the ball from the defence, turn away from trouble, and get it forward quickly.

If we can keep others, that alone could be difference between genuinely competing and one again struggling. Fingers crossed, I’ve been mostly good this year.

Rob Dolby
9 Posted 19/06/2022 at 09:08:53
None of our current midfielders are suited to a formation with 5/3 at the back, Come to think of it none of our defenders are either! We need 5 across the middle to make up for the shortcomings of the centre mids.

I would like to see a couple of terriers in the centre of the park to add balance. I don't think we will be able to afford the icing on the cake types of Gallagher and zinchecko.

Stiles from Barnsley is a low risk low cost option. Anyone who watched England get humiliated by hungry last week must have notice how hard the lad works.

Look to the French league's to unearth another Gueye, kante, Bissouma type.

Try and move on Gomes and Gbamin.

Playing 5 at the back needs quality from the fullbacks and we don't have that delivery from either flank so maybe Frank needs to rethink that one.

Robert Tressell
10 Posted 19/06/2022 at 09:44:32
Rob, Sam & Dave - a common theme here is that players who can make a big difference don't need to be household names.

I'd honestly never heard of Leando Fuchs until Sam mentioned him yesterday yet this is a top performing midfielder in the Championship with a classy style of play and good stats too.

John McGinn is a cracking player as Dave points out.

The French league as Rob says produces a conveyor belt of quality at decent prices.

The midfield rebuild can be done at relatively low cost if we shop in the right places and buy players to complement each other and fit into an overall system of play.

Brian Harrison
11 Posted 19/06/2022 at 10:41:40
Not only does the midfield need rebuilding, the forwards we have need an improvement. I have said for a couple of years that our goalscoring from midfield and upfront is nowhere near good enough, and is largely the problem why we are constantly under-performing.

We get virtually no goals on a regular basis from any of our host of midfield players, whether that be Allan, Iwobi, Gomes, Delph, Doucouré, or Davies. Up front, we also struggle whether that be with Richarlison, Gray, Gordon, Iwobi, Alli, or Calvert-Lewin.

The likelihood is that Richarlison may be gone in the summer so we have to replace his goals, and the alternatives from what we have aren't great. Gordon has been great for us but, despite some really sparkling performances, he hasnt yet backed that up with goals or many assists. To be a top player, he will need to improve both these stats next season, which I believe he can.

Although Gray turned in some great performances under our former manager, he hasn't reached the same level under Lampard and again his goal return is poor.

Also, I hope Lampard moves away from Iwobi as a wing-back, as too often last season we ended up playing 5 at the back which limited our attacking options.

I am not convinced about Calvert-Lewin; he is far too limited a player for me and has never improved those skills. Obviously Ancelotti quickly realised his limitations and told him to stay in and around the 6-yard box and don't take a 2nd touch.

As we know, Calvert-Lewin is very good in the air and Ancelotti played to his strengths, but he very rarely has any assists except for the Iwobi one against Newcastle. The stats show he has never scored a goal from further than 10 yards out, I really struggle to think of a centre-forward with such a poor stat as that.

Danny O’Neill
12 Posted 19/06/2022 at 11:23:03
Yes, shop around on the continent for value. Don't get seen off with over inflated prices for overrated British players.

And I totally agree on Calvert-Lewin, Brian. He's effective in the box but you're not getting a Harry Kane or Graham Sharp 25-yarder out of him any time soon. As you said, Ancelotti spotted that early and told him to stay away from the corner flags.

Through fear of bringing this into us needing a new team, we still need that defence to get us on the front foot. It stops the midfield being more concerned about shielding the defence and gets them closer to our often isolated forwards. We get higher up the pitch.

Whatever way you look at it, we need better players. There's my first scratched record of the day. There will probably be a few more.

Sam Hoare
13 Posted 19/06/2022 at 11:48:54
A big problem we have had is massively overpaying for players. Sigurdsson at £45M and Iwobi at £30M are prime examples.

But more recently, the likes of Patterson cost £12M rising to £16M which is bonkers really for a lad of his experience. He may prove a great player but it's still overpaying. Calvin Ramsay (who I think will prove just as good) cost Liverpool £4M rising to £6M.

I don't know who has negotiated a lot of these fees in the past but I dread to think of the millions we have wasted. Enough to buy one or two decent midfielders for sure.

Robert Tressell
14 Posted 19/06/2022 at 12:40:11
Danny # 12, not just the Continent but the Championship, Scotland and rich 6 academies etc.

We can spend effectively and still have a British core to the side – which I think is generally good for team spirit.

Ajay Gopal
16 Posted 19/06/2022 at 14:19:09
Tony, thought-provoking article (although you seem to have interchanged the 2 Ukrainians' positions).

Too many people are dismissing Tom Davies - I think he can be pretty effective as a screener, and starting a quick counter-attack. Ward-Prowse and Sander Berge would be very decent additions if we see the exit of Gomes and Gbamin. Zinchenko would be a very good addition if one of Dele Alli or Iwobi are sold.


Patterson Holgate Branthwaite Mykolenko
Ward-Prowse Davies Berge Zinchenko
Gordon Calvert-Lewin

(Assuming Richarlison is leaving.)

Jason Li
17 Posted 19/06/2022 at 14:52:39
Being optimistic after seeing some good performances last season – yes, lots of bad ones, no doubt – but there were a few good performances too, I think we don't need a huge rebuild.

Why? A new steady centre-back to organise and reduce mistakes could reduce goals against by 6 to 10 a season alone; that would take us a few places higher up the Premier League table.

Then, if Super Frank is brave enough to sell either Doucouré or Allan, and get in a specialist Number 6 like Roy Keane, Makelele, Kante and so on, this will help reduce mistakes at the back.

Also, it gives a platform for Iwobi and Alli to play on the front foot more often and their goal contributions will increase. Yes, that means Gallagher is not my first choice signing in midfield unless Frank sells Iwobi to pay for it.

Even if Iwobi's goal contributions go up by an additional 3 to 5 a season because of a proper Number 6 specialist behind him, and less running sideways to conserve energy, it makes the team better too because of the threat from midfield pulls players to mark him and create space in the final third.

Should Richarlison and Rondon go, then we need to buy 1 good replacement, and another ready on the bench who has ready-made goals too – either very young and cheap or older but free or only a few million for the bench.

Last season, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Rondon had a low return as a set. Again, if as a striking set they score an extra 5-10 goals more next season, then this we all know means higher places in the Premier League tanle.

So, for me, 4 players in with a specific job description and we are in for a much better season.

It's been a long time since I played Football Manager so I couldn't guess who to bring in, but 3 first team players and a decent bench player will solve that problem that Gana and Zouma did for Silva a little while back that still remains to this day.

In summary, we're looking for a way to improve the goal difference each season in our favour without spending lots of money on players that go down in value quickly, and that's it. Review every season where we can get a better goal difference and make the change. Easier said than done, mind you. :)

Jay Harris
18 Posted 19/06/2022 at 16:30:00
The problems in midfield as I see it are poor passing and movement and a lack of goals. Delph also showed us what we were missing in a defensive midfielder in the few games he played.

I believe Doucouré at his best can still do a job and score goals but not as a defensive midfielder. Likewise Allan has class but lacks the pace for the Premier League in his twilight years, so we need two midfield players who can score goals and pass and receive the ball, and a terrier who can fill the defensive midfielder position.

IMO, Harry Winks is not much better than Tom Davies and would be a waste of £20M.

I like the look of Sam's suggestions and research.

Steavey Buckley
19 Posted 19/06/2022 at 17:07:16
Midfield has to contribute with more goals if Everton are not going to be reliant on whoever is going to be upfront next season.

The jury is out on Doucouré being good enough in midfield, but another season of Allan would be a waste of time, because he can neither score goals nor pass the ball accurately enough.

Tom Bowers
20 Posted 19/06/2022 at 17:37:11
Steavey Buckley you are so right about Everton's midfield problems.
We were extremely vulnerable in so many games last season it was embarrassing.

I was nervous every time opposing teams got possession and got into our half as they seemed to advance so easily and create danger.

Speed in closing down and tackling was unacceptable.

Scoring goals from midfield was also poor and apart from the odd one or two from Gray, Townsend and Doucoure the midfield contributed very little in an attacking sense.

There was slight improvement towards the end of the season when things were really desperate but still way off what one needs to be consistently competitive.

Steavey Buckley
21 Posted 19/06/2022 at 17:48:36
Tom, if Allan plays again next season for Everton, Everton will be in trouble preventing relegation. I have never know such a player, besides Tom Davies and Gomes, who is such a liability, whether he is passing the ball or tackling.
Ian Bennett
22 Posted 19/06/2022 at 18:00:55
Questions of our midfield

Who scores
Who creates
Who tackles
Who contributes at defensive and attacking set pieces
Who can physically cope with running 12k, be strong and ha pace over a 40 to 50 game season

Doucoure and Iwobi I think tick some of those boxes. Allan, Gomes and Davies for me don't. Gbamin after 2 years out isn't going to come back.

We need 2 central midfielders, and one has to be able to play in front of the back 4.

I worry about this team. We have gaps throughout the park, and have a major goal problem post Richy. If we are looking for 50-60 goals, where are they coming from?

Peter Carpenter
23 Posted 19/06/2022 at 21:04:04
Get Ross Barkley back. He might be the best playmaker we can get and he scores a few goals. Hey, make him captain too. Any takers?
Tony Abrahams
24 Posted 19/06/2022 at 21:46:26
I was never the kid's biggest fan, Peter, but perhaps he might have really grown up as a person since he left Everton?

Sam Hoare
25 Posted 20/06/2022 at 09:26:42
Peter, I’d love a player like Barkley used to be. But I would want the man himself. Poor work rate, wasted potential and bad blood.

I’d happily take Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea or Gallagher of course. And Gilmour could develop into a good player, he looked good under Lampard but was really pretty awful at a limited Norwich team last year.

Much will depend on whether Frank wants to play 3 in the middle or 2. Not sure many of our current lot would excel in a 2.

Danny O’Neill
26 Posted 20/06/2022 at 09:48:23
If you'd have asked me 2 years ago about Barkley, I'd have considered it a backwards step.

Now caveat that with my overly optimistic views on all things Everton at the time.

Right now? Maybe as a more mature player and with more experience, he could potentially improve our midfield.

I've always had two opinions on Ross.

1. I don't know his best position. Is he better sat deep or is he a number 10? Or is he just one of those roaming players who you don't give a position? I always thought he's better being more forward and roaming.

2. I think he's a victim of our coaching system. Or lack of should I say? Bigger and quicker as a youngster, it looks like he was just left to do his thing because he could beat everyone, so he wasn't coached. A lack of investment in coaching him meant that caught up with him once he was playing amongst players equally as quick and big as him.

That's my opinion. A shame, because there is / was obvious natural talent in the player.

I obviously don't know, but I suspect a failure in the coaching of the player's natural ability.

Tony Everan
27 Posted 20/06/2022 at 10:30:47
Ross hasn’t got the necessary work rate or press / reaction speed to be an asset for us. I don’t see how he would fit in and make that midfield unit stronger. I feel now need more energy and tenacity in midfield and getting that without losing the creativity aspect. If it was a midfield three a tough ball winner sitting behind Gallagher and Zinchenko. Sangare, Grillitsch, McGinn or similar tough, no nonsense player, one who can read and tackle behind the other two pressing-fighters who are also forward drivers. All have relentless but controlled energy and desire built in.

Sam, some interesting food for thought from that Championship midfield scouting review. Ryan Yates stands out.

More rumours about Dwight McNeill today, I think he’s been on our radar for a while and the player would be highly motivated and jump at the move. Still only 22 and could improve further move coming to us under Frank. Despite his form dropping a bit last season, I like the player. A gamble though, and he’s got difficult shoes to fill.

Tony Abrahams
28 Posted 20/06/2022 at 12:04:17
Looking through the internet yesterday, I watched about 5 minutes highlights of the Bayern Munich game once again.

Slowest player on the pitch was probably Peter Reid, or maybe Kevin Sheedy. cleverest brain on the pitch, was Peter Reid, or maybe Kevin Sheedy?

What we would give for midfield players like this now. One all huff and puff, harrying, hustling, fetching and carrying, making everyone work, especially the opposition, and one as calm as the most tranquil summers day, even with 50.000 Evertonians, screaming and snarling, whilst playing every single ball.

Hopefully Deli Ali, comes back rejuvenated, because his 45 minute cameo against Crystal Palace, with similar passion coming from the terraces, definitely showed me that this kid can play, when he really wants to, and he’s also someone who can score goals, coming late from the middle of the park.

Danny O’Neill
29 Posted 20/06/2022 at 12:44:08
Tony you've only gone and dropped the Sheedy bomb.

My best mate Dave (RIP) and many around us in the Gwladlys Street used to be cynical about his work rate and lack of pace. I idolised him.

Lazy is what Dave used to call him. More concerned about his hair being out of place was often the conversation as we walked to and from Kirkdale station. Only covered 5 yards each side of the half way line on the left side. I can still hear him now.

But Sheedy didn't need pace. He played the game to his pace. He dictated the pace. Great players do that. And Sheedy was a great.

They don't need to run around like idiots on steroids, caffeine or asmtha treatment. They almost bring the game into slow motion because they make time and space through their brain and vision.

Think Pirlo. A footballing orchestrator who was still going at the highrlest level aged 40. He was not blessed with pace. Just talent.

I've said this before, but if there is a moment that epitomises Kevin Sheedy, it was the build up to that 3rd goal against Bayern Munich.

Playing in a cauldron of pressure and the game of his life. A baying crowd screaming at him to do something. Cool as a cucumber he waits. Then waits again and picks his moment to make the pass.

The rest was history.

I love Kevin Sheedy!!

Danny O’Neill
30 Posted 20/06/2022 at 12:47:57
I agree on Alli too. If you look at his attributes when on form with Tottenham, his best was late arrival in the box to get on the end of something and score.
Robert Tressell
31 Posted 20/06/2022 at 13:10:39
I like Dwight McNeil. He has good delivery into the box, is technically good and switches the play well.

He might be a good bet for the right flank with Patterson bombing forward on the overlap. Those two would be a good source of crosses for DCL and Alli.

However, he doesn't score many goals and is slow. Whilst speed isn't essential it helps - and I'm not sure his qualities outweigh his lack of speed.

Tom Bowers
32 Posted 20/06/2022 at 13:12:04
It is a real conundrum that has to be resolve before we can be competitive.

Last season saw Everton one of the poorest clubs playing the ball out of defence and it was quite easy for most clubs to high press them into trouble.

We needed quick thinkers and better understanding so we have to hope that Lampard can get the right players into that mode.

It's hard to say if such players are in the squad but I suspect not.

Davies, Gomes, Alan, Doucoure, Alli and a few others just didn't measure up and Iwobi too although he picked up near the end of the season. Gbamin is an enigma at this stage and whether he is fancied by Lampard is debateable.

Tony Abrahams
33 Posted 20/06/2022 at 14:37:20
I loved Reid, Danny, but I threw Sheedy in just for you mate, honestly! I had to though, simply because of what he did, and how you describe what he did for our third goal that night. Cool as a cucumber, he waited and waited, because he already had the picture, but for this picture to be complete he needed some runners, and that’s exactly what he got!

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