Does This Summer Signing Mean Everton Are Ready To Rejoin The Elite?

“There’s only one James Rodriguez!”

And therein lies the problem for Everton over the coming season. There is only one James Rodriguez. Should the Colombian suffer a serious injury or loss of form there is no player or combination of players in their squad capable of filling in for him.

But let’s put that to one side for the moment. Everton do not make signings like James Rodriguez, or at least they haven’t for a very long time and we should all acknowledge just how much of a coup his signing is.

The current Everton side is arguably the most talented and dynamic squad they’ve had during the Premier League era. The only aspect of their side that is truly questionable being the goalkeeper.

Other than this one position there are no other positions that you could point to that would rule them out of the fight for a top-six finish and potentially the last of the UCL positions. This landscape presumably the picture painted by Carlo Ancelotti while attempting to lure the former Galactico to the blue half of Merseyside.

The Promise

The signing of the Colombian on a free transfer was the cherry on top of an already successful summer window for the Toffees. The kind of marquee name that made more than a few teams cast concerned glances over their shoulders.

And for the first four games of the season these glances seemed entirely justified with Ancelotti’s new-look Everton taking 28 points from 28. A controversial but well-earned draw in the Merseyside Derby meant they went into the first international break top of the table.

However, since then they have suffered 3 defeats in 3. A run of results that have lead many to reevaluate their early-season hopes for them. Compounded by a poor display against Man Utd where James failed to register a single shot or Key Pass.

This game aside James’ numbers this season are almost identical to the rest of his career. Marking him out as one of the Premier League’s truly elite. Currently outperforming Kevin De Bruyne in xA90, G90 and xGBuildup90. (Understat)

Supporting Cast

As previously mentioned, Everton’s current squad is packed with some of the EPL’s most exciting and prolific names. The partnership of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison providing the league with one of its most powerful and dynamic forward lines.

Calvert-Lewin’s performances so far this season have been phenomenal, full of power and precision. And if Richarlison can match his strike partner’s clinical nature then he will position himself as one of the league’s most unplayable forwards.

The additions of Allan and Doucoure in midfield have added resilience and mobility that has been notably absent from Everton sides of the recent past. A strong base from which to build when coupled with the steady passing and possession game of Andre Gomes.

Their back four is decidedly competent in defence, with Fullbacks Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne providing effective attacking outlets. There are still question marks over Jordan Pickford, but as long as he is still England’s Number 1 he will most likely remain first choice at Goodison Park.

The Cracks

The cracks only become clear when you look for creative options when you look for creative options beyond James. While both Richarlison and DCL will guarantee goals, neither are involved in build-up or chance creation. Instead preferring to run in behind or stay between the posts.

Instead, eyes turn to Gylfi Sigurdsson. The last signing of the old Everton. Sigurdsson is one of those problematic players whose performances at a lower side warps their ability.

While both players function as creators, over half of Sigurdsson and Rodriguez career shots come from outside the box but Sigurdsson’s total shots dwarfs Rodriguez. James has taken 110 shots inside the 18-yard box resulting in 31 goals. Whereas Sigurdsson has scored 29 in 182 shots, with only 3 shots coming from in side the 6-yard box to James’ 13. (Sigurdsson / Rodriguez)

The gulf between the two is most evident when you look at their respective output per 90. Despite having played just shy of half the amount of minutes as Gylfi Sigurdsson, over the course of his career James has outperformed the Icelandic International by basically double in most significant areas.

James Rodriguez Gylfi Sigurdsson
G90 .47 .24
xG90 .28 .21
Sh90 2.29 2.33
A90 .46 .20
xA90 .42 .19
KP90 3.33 1.96
xGChain90 .99 .38
xGBuildup90 .57 .17

The Future

It is not easy to move from the obscurity of midtable to European regulars. But it is possible, you only have to look at Spurs and the progression of Leicester and Wolves in recent years.

While the latter are not guaranteed Champions League or even Europa League football from year to year, they are very much part of the conversation nowadays. A conversation that has space for Everton.

Everton are as well positioned as any other to solidify their place at the European table and can push the likes of Man Utd, Spurs, Chelsea and Leicester in the competition for Champions League Qualification.

In James Rodriguez they have found the jewel in their crown, now it is imperative to make sure the crown is worthy of it. The right kind of creative reinforcements in the next two transfer windows (as well as an upgrade between the sticks) and there is no reason why Everton can’t put distance between themselves and the likes of Southampton.

Everton are an incredibly significant club in the history of English football. Given the right kind of investment and time to properly jettison some of the squad’s waste I see no reason why Everton can’t be the second giant to awaken from its slumber on Merseyside. And it may all stem from the signing of one James Rodriguez.

Ethan Golding
Graduate of DCU schools of Communications & English. Sometimes I write about football, sometimes I write plays and poetry
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