Everton

Silva can't afford to lose his Everton engine to PSG

 • by James Piercy
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He’s not quite made them box office just yet, but Marco Silva’s imprint on Everton has been significant, if only from a visual point of view.

After the tedium of Sam Allardyce, the Portuguese has made the Toffees watchable again, introducing a more expansive and dynamic brand of play.

The signings of Richarlison and Bernard have provided the team with a vibrant attacking dimension while playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson appears reinvigorated and freed. André Gomes has been a classy addition in midfield and in Lucas Digne and a fit Seamus Coleman, the manager has two offensive-minded full-backs.

They remain far from being the finished article and their eighth-place in the Premier League is exactly the position Allardyce left them, while their points per game under Silva (1.41) is eerily the same to what was produced under the former England manager (1.41).

However, the deviation in expected goals – 1.0 in the Allardyce days to 1.34 with Silva in charge – and scoring attempts – 8.87 to 13.17 – presents the ultimate truth: this version of Everton are just a more fun team.

And entertainment is something that should be valued, especially considering the scope of the club against the backdrop of the financial behemoths of Manchester CityChelseaManchester United and Liverpool. 

But, for all the enjoyment Silva has brought to the party, fulfilling one of Farhad Moshiri’s mission statements, and the eye-catching individual performances of Richarlison, Bernard, Sigurdsson or Digne, arguably Everton’s most important player has been very Allardyce in stature.

Idrissa Gueye was an under-the-radar signing the wake of Aston Villa’s relegation in 2016, but since moving to Goodison Park, the Senegalese international has started 79 of a possible 93 Premier League games for Everton and been a regular under Ronald Koeman, Allardyce and now Silva.

Like all the best defensive midfielders, Gueye’s strengths, beyond his work rate and engine, is his simplicity and how he allows those more skilled, attacking individuals within the team to flourish and play at their highest level.

For Silva, his role is so important because the Portuguese is focused on winning the ball back quickly in an aggressive press and then attacking with purpose and numbers.

On the first count, Gueye’s ability as a ball-winner is outstanding. For the last two seasons in the Premier League he has ranked first and fifth for tackles per 90 – 4.5 this campaign and 3.81 in 2017/18 – and seventh and 14th for interceptions – 2.31 and 2.05.

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With the exception of NGolo Kanté at Chelsea and the slightly more wayward Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester, there isn’t a midfielder in the Premier League close to providing that level of consistent defensive impact.

With regards to the other side of the ball, his presence is equally valuable to Silva as when Everton attack with such velocity, they need that defensive security in midfield to limit the threat of the opposition’s own counter-attack.

Removing Gueye from the equation leaves them open and vulnerable and his replacements, Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin, while fine players are not of the same level in terms of being able to physically dominate opposing midfields and provide such a watertight defensive shield.

Which is why Everton should be concerned over reports that Paris Saint-Germain are considering a swoop for the 29-year-old as Thomas Tuchel searches for midfield reinforcements.

In an almost polar opposite to Silva’s work on Merseyside, Tuchel has made a huge impact in Paris, slowly transforming PSG into a more efficient defensive side to match their attacking adventure. But the German is still not content with his squad.

Unlike Silva, minimal investment was made in the summer and while the academy has been used to give the squad a freshness and extra dimension, there is a hole in his midfield which continues to grow and needs plugging.

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The retirement of Thiago Motta in the summer barely caused a ripple outside Paris and in his adopted nation of Italy, but the defensive midfielder has been a ubiquitous presence throughout QSI’s project in turning PSG from under-performing capital glamour kids into a European heavyweight.

With the exception of his final campaign, Motta made more than 35 appearances in all competitions for four straight seasons, playing under three different managers in Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery and amid constant tinkering to the squad. All who picked him regularly because of his unselfish, unfussy, defensive diligence and ability to make his teammates better.

PSG haven’t replaced the underrated Motta, despite Tuchel’s insistence, and to add to the growing concern in that area of the field they look set to lose Adrien Rabiot, either on a free transfer at the end of the season or next month, as they try to lessen the financial loss.

Rabiot is a very different player to Motta but, even so, losing two important figures in the engine room in the space of 12 months with no obvious replacement signed seems somewhat remiss on the part of sporting director Antero Henrique.

Hence the interest in Gueye who can play the Motta role, of sitting alongside Marco Verratti and allowing the Italian to dictate play while covering any missteps in possession and eternally sitting deep as Neymar and Kylian Mbappé do their thing further up the field.

It’s a role that is either chronically overlooked in football or slightly overrated, depending on your viewpoint but clearly the very best managers value players of that ilk. They continue to be in fashion and of importance.

Everton have such a player in Gueye and one who appears to be coveted by one of the very best clubs on the continent. He has shown how indispensable he is to Silva and the Toffees should do everything in their power to keep him at Goodison Park.

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