Everton have invested heavily in their middle third over recent seasons but, if reports are accurate, it is still an area of the pitch they want to improve.
With Carlo Ancelotti putting a lot of stock in the midfield, it makes sense that the Italian tactician wants to improve what he has at his disposal at Goodison Park. Not just in terms of quality but reliability, too.
The Liverpool Echo claim the Toffees are in the market for a tempo setter in midfield and one of the names who could potentially be on their list is former Liverpool, Bayern Munich and West Ham United transfer target Marc Roca.
The 23-year-old impressed in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship last summer, stealing the show alongside Napoli’s Fábian Ruiz in the centre of the park for Spain.
Dani Ceballos and Ruiz claimed the headlines with their performances in the final third, but it was Roca who orchestrated everything good that Spain did. A metronomic presence in midfield, he looked like a hybrid of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets.
Roca’s short-game was there to be marvelled at. He would smother the opposition quickly for La Furia Roja, reclaiming the ball and spraying an unnervingly accurate cross-field pass with his wand of a left-foot.
This is a midfielder who really has it all, and has been drawing attention from outside of the Iberian Peninsula. Bayern were one team reportedly interested, having lost out to Manchester City in the battle for Atlético Madrid’s Rodri.
After stepping up in a Spanish side littered with potential stars, Roca showed that when surrounded by quality he doesn’t look out of place. Performances of that ilk will surely be attractive to a number of Europe’s elite sides, who can be safe in the knowledge he isn’t simply a big fish playing well in a small pond.
Interest in the Catalonian has died down a little in recent months, perhaps due to Espanyol’s struggles in LaLiga. Because of this his stock and price tag have dropped, but with Abelardo Fernández’s men rooted to the bottom of the table, the likelihood of Roca moving is perhaps higher than ever before.
The midfield maestro has been linked with transfers away from the RCDE Stadium ever since making his debut as a then 19-year-old. However, the youngster penned a new deal with Espanyol and went about making himself a key cog in the Periquitos midfield.
His technical ability is phenomenal, his vision is extraordinary and is only matched by his execution. Primarily left-footed, he’s not averse to using his right foot and this adds another dimension to his game.
Though not a ball carrier, his ability to create angles for passes and use either foot means he’s press-resistant. He is a player that is generally able to get a pass off and progress the ball.
Roca is an instigator and a facilitator; an ideal combo for a modern-day midfielder.
His heatmap (above) is a perfect reflection of those attributes on the pitch. He is someone who dictates play from the middle third and doesn’t venture too far forward or into wide areas (like others who operate in a similar role). Perhaps in a more expressive team he would naturally find himself in those more advanced positions, and is simply restrained by his current side’s struggles.
Roca is used to seeing a fair amount of the ball. The 23-year-old is averaging 50 passes per 90 this term. Everything is going through him. Roca may not a dribbler, but his use of possession and the speed at which he operates means he doesn’t have to be. Of his 50 passes, 38 per cent go forward. That highlights how incisive he is when in possession.
He’s diligent defensively too, involving himself in 3.3 tackles and interceptions per 90. Perhaps the most impressive stat, however, is that he’s regained possession 6.55 times this term. This is a player who puts out fires with great regularity.
The under-21 international is exactly the sort of player Ancelotti likes in the heart of his team. With Milan, he has Andrea Pirlo. At Chelsea, Michael Ballack was his man. He’s since managed Marco Verratti, Alonso, Toni Kroos, Thiago Alcântara and Roca’s compatriot, Ruiz. Ancelotti knows how to get the best out of these midfielders and he knows how to build his team around these individuals.
Everton may have Gomes back from injury, but the Portuguese international continues to divide opinion with his performances. Bringing in Roca could actually aid Gomes in adding a level of consistency to his game. The Espanyol man could transform the middle third at Goodison Park.