It was apt that Everton’s Tom Davies introduced himself to the wider footballing public during a game against Manchester City. It was also fitting that Morgan Schneiderlin made his Everton debut in the same game.
Pep Guardiola’s sides have always had midfield balance, whether it’s been instilled by the Spaniard himself or been present naturally through the players at his disposal.
For every Sergio Busquets there needs to be an Andres Iniesta, and a team needs a Mario Gotze as much as it needs a Xabi Alonso.
Davies’s display in Everton’s 4-0 trouncing of Guardiola’s side at Goodison Park might have had the City manager wishing he’d had the English teenager in his own side.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager is struggling to find the right balance throughout his team at the moment, especially in defensive and midfield areas, but another former Barcelona man has just found the missing pieces for his puzzle.
Ronald Koeman was also struggling during the letter half of 2016, and he would often use his press conferences to hint that his squad needed reinforcements.
When asked about new signings following his side’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City at the beginning of January, Koeman said: “I have that in mind and the board knows because we speak together about what we and the team needs, and that is the job of [director of football] Steve Walsh.
“I hope everybody realises what the team needs to get the results that are the expectation of this football club. I can explain more but I don’t like to because that’s really talks we need to do internally.”
Everton won just three Premier League games during the last three months of 2016, but in the month of January alone they’ve already equalled that tally for 2017.
Schneiderlin arrived shortly after the manager’s words in that post-Leicester press conference, and when he came on against City he slotted in perfectly.
While Koeman may be looking for further recruits his midfield now looks set, not just for this season, but long term too.
Steve Walsh arrived at the club from Leicester, and the new director of football at Goodison wasted no time in trying to find Everton their very own N’Golo Kante.
Walsh obviously values the presence of a battling defensive midfielder in the centre of the park, while Koeman’s Southampton side were built around a midfield shield of Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama.
Despite this key signing, other pieces of the puzzle remained elusive. Gareth Barry can look impressive when given space and time to play, but once teams began to close him down high up the pitch Everton’s midfield was rendered ineffective.
Barry would regularly be caught out in defence, and despite the occasional eye catching piece of midfield passing, he was easily stifled by a high press.
Elsewhere, Muhamed Besic was injured, Ross Barkley was overzealous, and James McCarthy was either injured or overzealous.
By January Koeman had had enough of his ineffective midfield, and 18-year-old Davies came in to make his first start of the season against the Dutchman’s former club, Southampton, bagging an assist in a 3-0 win.
Then came his standout performance against City when he scored his first goal for the club, followed by a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace where he assisted Seamus Coleman’s goal.
Davies has been like a new signing for Koeman, and the Everton academy product now has three goal contributions in three league starts this season.
His presence has also had a positive effect on Barkley, taking some of the pressure from him now he’s not the side’s only local player, while also giving him the task of easing Davies into the team. This responsibility appears to have cleared Barkley’s mind of things which were blighting his performances. The 24-year-old’s ability has never been in doubt but mentally he seems to have struggled of late.
The addition of Schneiderlin has given Koeman even more options, and the imminent return of Besic following his recovery from the knee injury which kept him out of the early part of the season.
In the shape of Schneiderlin and Gueye, Koeman now has the type of deep lying pair he had at Southampton, and a springboard from which Barkley and Davies can play.
The trickiness of Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon gives them options up front or wide, while Romelu Lukaku is one of the best strikers in the league.
The puzzling decision to let Gerard Deulofeu leave on loan, plus the absence of big summer signing Yannick Bolasie due to injury may mean that Koeman wants to add another wide attacker or forward before the transfer window closes.
But if he continues to use a back three then Coleman and Leighton Baines will naturally solve any wide issues, allowing Mirallas to play centrally with Lukaku while burgeoning teenage talents Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin wait in the wings.
Whether new signings are made in other positions or not the Dutchman now has a midfield he can build his side around, and it’s one which is made up of the ideal mix of local academy products and premium purchases from other clubs.
The jigsaw is beginning to fall into place at Goodison Park, giving a balance in midfield which is enough to make other managers envious.