It would be hard to find a more disappointing group of fantasy assets this season than the players at Everton. The defense has been porous, the attacking has been lackluster (to say the least), and even the formidable midfield filter has been leaky. The departure of Ronald Koeman provided a benchmark for the Toffees, though we can’t tell which way the club will turn.
Since Koeman’s sacking, Everton have accrued four points from nine possible in the premier league (2-0 loss at Leicester City, 3-2 win versus Watford, 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace). While this is hardly a monumental turnaround, we have seen some life from some of the Toffee’s stars, as well as some surprising breakthroughs in fantasy potential.
First and foremost, we’ve finally seen a Gylfi Sigurdsson game. The Icelander came out from whichever cave he’s been hiding in and produced with 19 points in Gameweek 12, including his first(!!!) assist of the season. He’s way off pace if he wants to match the 13 he provided last season with Swansea City.
His problem at Everton has been his supporting cast. It’s hard to make this claim after seeing him succeed with a deplete Swans side, but they provided parts that accented his game. Last season, he was surrounded by a large target man in the box (Fernando Llorente) and speedy wingers down the flanks (Jordan Ayew, Luciano Narsingh, Nathan Dyer). Llorente drew the opposing defense towards the goal, and the wingers provided necessary width to spread out the opposing midfield. Sigurdsson then had operating room, where slicing through passing lanes or launching a missile towards goal were his specialties.
In his short time at Goodison Park, he has seen neither of these. The target man issue will continue – Everton just don’t have one on the roster. Ultimately, that will hurt Gylfi’s value as his optimal situation is just not going to happen, at least until January. The competition for place doesn’t help either. While I’m all for a meritocracy, four number 10s is a hard thing to manage. At most, two can play at a time and even for depth, Everton have too many. However, the emergence of Oumar Niasse will likely ease the pressure on Gylfi’s creative skill a bit.
Niasse has added a spark of pace and will to the Everton team and he’s being rewarded. Since his first appearance in Gameweek 6, Niasse has played in every game, scoring 5 goals in 7 matches. The Senegalese has been Everton’s best player this season. Unfortunately, he is fairly goal dependent, never topping out at more than 5 points in a game where he hasn’t scored. Everton do have creators in abundance, though and even still – Niasse has flourished despite a lack of forward support. It’s never wrong to ride a hot streak.
The thing that has me especially excited about Everton’s future prospects is the positive trend in Idrissa Gueye’s play. Gueye was the linchpin in Everton’s midfield last season, providing a perfect shield for the defense. Winning the ball as much as he did in the midfield gave the attack a perfect foothold to launch forward on the counter where Lukaku and Barkley thrived last season.
The issue this season in the latter part of that equation. Gueye is still winning the ball through tackles almost (though not quite) as much as he did last season, but his chances created have dropped to 50% of what he was producing last year. This may be a result of Gueye drop in interceptions as well (from 2.7 per 90 minutes to 1.6). While tackles and interceptions are similar, intercepting a ball without defenders directly next to you gives at least a split-second of difference to pick up your head and look for a forward pass.
For whatever reason, Gueye’s interceptions dropped to nearly nothing for a five-game stretch. They have come back since Koeman left and so have his chances created. Gueye produced no key passes for the first six games but has now produced five in his last six matches (three in his last two). While the defense is still letting in goals, Gueye’s form is returning in the midfield, and that’s an important step.
The most amazing emergence, in my eyes, is the young Jonjoe Kenny at right-back. WhoScored.com has him marked as Everton’s best player on the season, with a 6.99 rating. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Kenny has been a revelation since jumping into the squad.
He fits right into my tried and true template for a successful fantasy full back. The key is getting forward – not just opportunistically, but as a pattern. The more a full back gets forward, the more space open behind him, meaning the more the opposing team will (or should) try to exploit this space. If the covering center-back isn’t super mobile, say like Phil Jagielka, this means that the full back is also going to have to sprint back to cover down the wing as well. This creates double-duty: more chances up near the box and more chances to knock a long ball out for a throw in.
Kenny is displaying both of these traits. He’s producing multiple shots per game (somewhat rare for a full back) and racking up clearances, tackles and interceptions (20, 10, and 7 in his last two games combined). The impact reflects in his total score, the end-all be-all. Kenny has put up 13, 7, and 13 points in his last three matches, despite the defense giving up 2 goals in each game. If Everton can ever figure out what’s happening in front of their 18-yard box (I believe they will…eventually), Kenny has Marcos Alonso written all over him.
Now, all of this optimism comes with some caveats. David Unsworth still mans the ship on Merseyside and the caretaker-manager’s form thus far has been far from inspiring. Everton continue to search for a long-term (or season-long) replacement. If that man is say, newly-available Tony Pulis – renowned scholar of bus-parking – all this optimism could fly out the window. But say they manage to lure a Marco Silva type (less likely), optimism could flow like rivers in the land of milk and honey.
Keep your eye out. Everton have already knocked out a brutal stretch of games against Man City, Tottenham, United and Chelsea, meaning their schedule for the next several gameweeks looks pretty good. If you can spare the room, pick up Jonjoe Kenny, Oumar Niasse, Idrissa Gueye and Dominic Calvert-Lewin – I didn’t mention him, but he holds a place in Everton’s future this season and he’s already producing. Wait to see if Gylfi puts up another few stinkers and trade for him if you can; he’ll come good again. Leighton Baines is also showing some of that gritty shift work that has made him so productive for so long, and he’s been tapping in some penalties while he’s at it.
There’s still potential here for the new boys that haven’t quite found a place. I have hope for the wingers most of all: Ademola Lookman in particular, but Sandro and Vlasic as well. If you see one starting to get a little more playing time, see what they’re doing. None have any sort of hold on a spot, but could cement their place with a few taken opportunities.
And for all of our sakes, just hope that Michael Keane, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams get their heads on straight sometime soon.