Everton haven’t been afraid to flex their financial muscle in the transfer market this summer.
Prior to Icelander’s arrival on Merseyside, Everton lavished £133.9million to bring in Davy Klaassen, Henry Onyekuru, Sandro Ramírez, Micheal Keane, Jordan Pickford and Josh Bowler. They’re spending, and spending big, out of necessity.
The Premier League returned to normality in 2016/17 after the magic and surprise that encapsulated 2015/16 and Leicester City’s stunning title success. The top six had a familiar feel about it, with the traditional challengers resuming their positions. Just beneath them, in seventh, were Everton.
In Ronald Koeman’s debut campaign as Toffees boss, the club were certifiably the best of the rest. They weren’t quite good enough to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool just above them, but simultaneously they were a clear level above Southampton, Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion just beneath them.
Everton’s ambition was going to be put to the test this summer, but they’ve stepped up in the transfer market. And here’s why Sigurðsson is worth every penny of the £45million the Toffees stumped up.
Sigurðsson’s Swansea Struggles
Swansea struggled throughout the 2016/17 campaign, only ensuring their Premier League survival on the penultimate weekend with a 2-0 win at Sunderland that was followed up by Crystal Palace’s thrashing of Hull.
A major issue for the Welsh outfit as they battled the drop was a genuine lack of tactical coherence, which was perhaps the result of a series of managerial changes.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Paul Clement’s appointment that the team began to look like a Premier League side again.
The former Real Madrid assistant officially took charge on January 3. But his first match in charge was a 4-0 home defeat to Arsenal. It was an ominous start but before long he had imbued the team with a clarity and organisation that was lacking previously.
Setting the team up in a rough 4-5-1 shape with former Chelsea transfer target Fernando Llorente as the lone centre-forward, Clement won eight out of his 18 league games in charge, losing eight and drawing two.
To contextualise the performances and results under his watch, 26 of Swansea’s 41 points were won after his arrival.
Sigurðsson was crucial within the new system. Having been utilised as a false nine, second striker and attacking midfielder before, the Icelandic international took on a left wing role, acting as a wide support to the attack.
Defensively he would drop back to form part of a midfield five, shifting his position in accordance with his team-mates’ movements to maintain compactness and limit gaps between the lines opening up. Then, in attacking situations, he would play a more central role, both literally and figuratively.
Creatively, Sigurðsson was of high importance to Swansea – no other player in the squad contributed more than his 2.1 key passes per game. On top of that, only two players in the entire league tallied more than his 13 assists: Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (18) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen (15).
Not only did the 27-year-old technician reach a career-high for number of assists produced in a single league season, but he scored nine of his own. And, when adding his goals scored and set up together, it calculates that he had a direct hand in just under 50 per cent of his team’s total.
For so long considered not quite good enough for the Premier League’s top sides, Sigurðsson showed in 2016/17 that he belonged to the upper echelons with individual displays of consistent high quality and real end product.
That, along with the fact he is in his peak, make him an extremely smart signing for Everton. But what’s arguably even more relevant is his favoured position and style of play.
Sigurðsson and Everton: The perfect fit
Sigurðsson didn’t make much of an impact during his time as a ‘top-six player’ with Tottenham. Yet he has since proven himself to be far too impactful to be left fighting against relegation annually. Everton are at the perfect level for Sigurðsson, though.
And with the future of Ross Barkley, who was absent for the opening day win over Stoke due to an apparent injury, very much up in the air, the Icelander is the ideal replacement.
Physically and athletically, Barkley is a stronger and more imposing specimen. He is also more audacious in one-on-one situations, and arguably more egocentric. All of this goes some way to explaining why he wins comparatively more take-ons.
However, the Englishman’s relatively higher total pass numbers and better pass success percentage could just as easily be attributed to his playing in a more coherent team with more emphasis on ball possession.
Sigurðsson does, however, best Barkley when it comes to assists provided per 90 minutes. He also has a higher shot accuracy percentage – 59 compared to 51 – which helps to explain why his average goals is also better.
Koeman has utilised a variety of different systems at Everton, but one general commonality running throughout each of these formations has been the use of attacking midfielders and, at times, inside forwards.
As a versatile individual with outstanding control, vision, passing and creativity, Sigurðsson fits right into whichever shape the Dutch boss intends to go with next season, bringing greater goal threat in the process.