Premier League Transfer Review #8: Everton

2017/18 Season

Everton’s eventual 8th placed finish last season may not look too bad on first glance, but their underlying numbers make for some grim reading.

Their xGD would have had them getting relegated as they sat in 18th place. In attack only Swansea had less chances per game, while only Huddersfield, Swansea and Brighton created less xG per game than Everton. What Huddersfield and Brighton had going for them was a strong defence, but Everton’s defence wasn’t much more impressive than their attack. They conceded the 6th most chances per game, amounting to the 5th most xG conceded.

After spending ~£180m in the summer it was huge step backwards for Everton, with many of the mistakes seeming very avoidable.

I talked about their move for Gylfi Sigurdsson before, stating that his main source of creativity was set pieces and while it’s great having a good set-piece taker, spending ~£50m on a (then) 27-year-old who’s main asset is their set-piece taking just seems crazy. To rub salt in the wounds for Everton fans, his set-piece taking didn’t even transfer to Merseyside. His xA p90 from corners and free-kicks was the 20th highest in the division.

Signing Sigurdsson, Davy Klassen and Wayne Rooney seemed to be a mistake from the off given the difficulty in fitting them into the same side, while not replacing Romelu Lukaku was also a strange decision. The striker Sandro Ramirez was of course signed – and while I think given his fee and age it was a worthwhile signing – he was in no way the same kind of player as Lukaku, as his impressive goalscoring season came from a huge over performance of his expected goals.

With Everton as a team having such poor attacking numbers it feels harsh to be surprised at individuals not putting up great numbers. Encouraging for Everton is that January signing Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott had a decent production in their half season. Tosun had an xG + xA of 0.441 p90 and Walcott 0.432 p90, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin also had a positive season, with an xG + xA of 0.446 p90.

As someone who wasn’t too keen on The Last Jedi, my feeling towards the current Star Wars trilogy and Everton are fairly similar.

The Force Awakens was 2016/17: Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it got fans excited again and hopeful for the future. The Last Jedi was 2017/18: Lots of changes were made, which were divisive and not necessarily for the better, leading to people becoming unsure about the future. Then my feeling towards Episode 9 of Star Wars and Everton in 2018/19 are similar: It feels like the new people coming in either have to do an Orange Juice, rip it up and start again, or take what they’ve been left and get on with it, even if they don’t really believe in what they’ve got.

With all this in mind, plus the new manager and director of football, Everton were always going to be an interesting side to follow this summer.

Incoming

Everton exploded into life in the last week of the window, but before that their only signing was 21-year-old Richarlison from Watford.

Richarlison’s signings was met with many differing opinions, the fee was a reported £35m rising to £50m depending on some performance clauses, and there were people who thought this was huge for a player who hadn’t scored since November. Despite this, I’m a huge fan of this move due to Richarlison’s underlying numbers and the fact he’s still just 21-years-old.

Last season in the Premier League he had the 6th highest xG + xA p90 of those 24-years-old and under, with just Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Anthony Martial and Leroy Sane being above him – meaning he was the most productive young player outside the top six. He heavily under performed his expected goal numbers, but I’d rather take a chance on a player with good underlying numbers and poor actual numbers, than one who seems as though they’ve just hit a hot streak of finishing.

Everton have lacked pace out wide for a while, but now with Richarlison and Walcott on either flank they have two wingers who put forward good outputs and should be dangerous on the counter attack. While the fee may be steep, I’d say this signing is a big step in the right direction from Everton.

Everton also added 25-year-old Bernard who can operate on the wing. I remember Bernard being highly rated a few years ago, but can’t say I’ve kept up with his progress in Ukraine. On a free it seems worth a risk, particularly given his age.

Moving back into central midfield Everton added 25-year-old Andre Gomes on loan from Barcelona. I don’t really know what to think of this deal. He didn’t do well at Barcelona, but a player can be good enough for Everton despite not being good enough for Barcelona, so that shouldn’t be a huge concern. More concerning is that he didn’t seem to offer all that much at Valencia before Barcelona signed him, as can be seen in the radar below from @MixedKnuts.


There may still be a good player in there somewhere, while if it’s a loan with no obligation to buy there isn’t much risk for Everton.

The rest of Everton’s signings were to address their defence – and with good reason. Left-back Leighton Baines is now 33-years-old, Phil Jagielka is 35-years-old and Ashley WIlliams 33-years-old.

At left-back Lucas Digne was brought in from Barcelona. Digne was once highly rated, but hasn’t played very often at Barcelona. For defenders with more than 450 minutes he had the 4th highest xG + xA p90 in La Liga last season, though you may not be able to draw too much from this given he only played 702 minutes and for a dominant side. Using Understat to go back four season his xA p90 is only marginally less than that of Leighton Baines, with Digne having played ~6000 minutes and Baines ~9000, but that’s with Baines having taken set-pieces over the years.

Having not featured much recently it’s hard to properly assess Digne, but at 25-years-old and once being deemed as a good young left-back I understand why Everton would take the chance on him. The only question is whether or not there are more options out there.

Assuming they want an attacking left-back to replace Leighton Baines, looking at those under 27-years-old and not on the richest twelve clubs, the defender with the highest xG + OP xA p90 was 25-year-old Jerome Roussillon from Montpellier. Roussillion was also in the last year of his contract, while Montpellier had strong defensive numbers last season. In the end he moved to Wolfsburg for £7.2m and it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on.

Other options include Philipp Max from Augsburg. The 24-year-old has great creative numbers thanks in part to his set-piece taking, taking out set-pieces made him have the 12th highest xG + OP xA p90 with the above filter. He probably would have cost a lot more than Roussillon, but with the added bonus of set-piece taking may have been worthwhile. He also played more minutes than anyone above him.

24-year-old Riza Durmisi from Betis could have also been worth looking into, he had the 7th highest xG + OP xA p90 for those who played over 1800 minutes (I thought it might be worth looking into those who featured regularly, as opposed to those in and out or making substitute appearances).

I think Digne will be okay, it always just feels risky buying someone who hasn’t played regular football in a few years.

Centre-back was where some more big money was spent by Everton this summer, spending £27m on Barcelona’s Yerry Mina and loaning Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma.

The Mina fee seems hugely inflated, probably based on his World Cup performance, but seems a decent signing from Everton. He was highly rated in South America, didn’t seem a great fit for Barcelona, but may be good enough for Everton and a better fit than at Barcelona. It’s also some good business from Barcelona, signing Mina for £10m, having him play five La Liga games, selling him for £27m and using that money to pay for Clement Lenglet from Sevilla.

There may have been better value for money out there, but Everton addressing their aging defence is at least a positive sign.

Outgoing

Moving on Davy Klaassen is a worthwhile move, while selling Ramiro Funes-Mori and loaning out Ashley Williams makes sense with all the new centre-back signings. I imagine Wayne Rooney was also on huge wages, so it makes sense to move him on as he probably wouldn’t feature too heavily.

Conclusion

Should they have done any more business?

Unless Andre Gomes can step up, it feels as though they’re lacking a progressive ball player in midfield. The below graph is just a simple look at how many passes a player attempts and what proportion of them go into the final third.

Click to Enlarge

While it’s not definitive in any way, from the above you can see that Everton’s midfielders look very ordinary. Sigurdsson does okay, but it’s likely because he plays further forward and moving it into the final third may just be a simple 5 yard pass.

Interesting names from the above graph include:

  • Ibrahim Sangare from Toulouse (who I talked about in my review of Bournemouth)
  • Lewis Cook from Bournemouth
  • Stefano Sensi from Sassuolo (can’t be seen but it is the purple dot below Gentner)

These seem a bit on the young side, but I’m sure there’s plenty of peak age options out there too.

Except for that, I don’t think there’s much more Everton needed to do. They addressed their aging defence, adding a new midfielder and two new wingers, with Richarlison being a really exciting prospect.

Verdict

I think Everton have done okay. There’s some question marks over the players they’ve brought in from Barcelona, but playing regularly for a club like Everton could help bring out the best of them. They’ve addressed some problems within the squad and look in a stronger position than they did last season. There’s still work to do, but it feels like they’re beginning to move back in the right direction.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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