Everton are close to selling Idrissa Gana Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain for £30m+. We take a look at who Everton could replace him with.
It is looking more and more likely that Everton will be losing one of their strongest and most important players. Idrissa Gana Gueye is a very good defensive midfielder and will be very difficult to replace. His contribution to the team is indeed significant, although opinions are somewhat divided in terms of truly how great a player he is.
Regardless, we decided to take a more objective look at the Everton midfield, Gana’s contributions, and some alternatives as Everton have made it clear that they will bring someone else in if he does indeed leave.
Everton’s Current Midfield Performance and Gana’s Contributions
Everton have primarily played two different formations effectively during the second half of the PL campaign. Silva’s 4-2-3-1 usually involved Gana playing with Andre Gomes in midfield behind Gylfi Sigurdsson in possession that dropped into a 4-4-2 without. Gana usually played a bit further back to support Gomes, who pushed a bit higher.
Silva also played more of his traditional 4-3-3 with Morgan Schneiderlin playing as a sitting 6 and Gana pressed higher where he could wreck havoc all over the field and push the ball forward in possession. Gylfi Sigurdsson usually still pushed a bit higher, thus you could argue it was still the 4-2-3-1, but the point is that Gana played both as a more traditional DM and more of a box to box CM.
It’s hard to quantify Everton’s midfield specific performance, but as a team Everton had the follow levels of performance that the midfield contributed to in some manner in the PL season:
Offensive50.8% possession (8th)
102.9 ball losses per 90 min (minutes) (15th)
81.61% passing completion rate (11th)
2.02 key passes per 90 min (12th) at 29.4% accuracy (15th)
6.7 through passes a game (13th)
54.6 passes to the final third per 90 min (8th) at 70.2% accuracy (9th)
74.8 progressive passes per 90 min (9th) at 76.5% accuracy (6th)
Not many of those numbers are spectacular – Everton’s central midfield is workman-like and does not create much. Everton relies more on Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard as well as Digne and Coleman to create a lot of chances for the team.
In terms of Idrissa Gana Gueye’s contributions to the above, it’s a mixed bag. Gana certainly helps Everton keep the ball with a high passing % (87.4%) and very few giveaways (the only non-defender better is Morgan Schneiderlin). The importance of this should not be understated as it’s a significant problem with the team, but Gana is a good possession player (despite some strange mythology to the contrary).
Conversely, Gana isn’t the most creative. He doesn’t contribute many key or through passes per 90, although he does lead the starting XI in passes to the final third in number per 90 and in accuracy as well as in forward passes. So while he does deserve some criticism for not creating a lot of chances for his teammates, he moves the ball forward fairly well.
Defensive68.0 defensive duels per 90 min (5th) at a 64.3% success rate (3rd)
43.7 interceptions per 90 min (14th)
10.4 fouls per 90 min (17th, 4th highest total)
Everton had one of the best defenses in the league in open play and while they fouled a lot, the defensive duels total is staggering for a team that was decent in possession.
Not surprisingly, Gana’s contributions to these numbers are significant. His 10.8 defensive duels per game is very high and rivaled only by Gomes on Everton. However, Gana wins 68% of those duels vs. Gomes 57%. Even though he engages in a ton of duels, Gana still doesn’t foul nearly as much as Everton’s other defensive midfielders and rarely gets dribbled past.
Not much of this should be shocking to Everton fans. Idrissa Gana Gueye is an elite defensive midfielder without the ball and with it, he’s good at keeping possession, he moves the ball forward, and positively contributes to Everton’s build up play and attack. Still, Gana is not a creative force as a midfielder.
How to Replace Gana
It’s not certain that Everton can replace Gana directly with anyone. He covers so much distance and engages in a tremendous number of defensive duels. For comparison’s sake, we looked at defensive and central midfielders in the top 5 leagues and tried to find those that had higher than 10 defensive duels per 90 min and won 60% or more of those duels.
That resulted in 13 names including Gana with all but 4 players 27 or older and only 2 from the PL and Gana was STIL 4th in duels and 2nd in duels won in that group. It’s just going to be very difficult to find a player that can replicate what Idrissa Gana Gueye does, especially in the PL.
Nevertheless, we took a closer look at the defensive / center midfielders Everton has been linked to over the past year or so and added in a few of the names above as well as a couple other obvious candidates. We factored in that Brands has indicated he is not going to spend big money on an older player (believe it was 26).
We also recognize that any replacement candidate has to still fit into a midfield with Gylfi Sigurdsson upfront and Gomes next to him, which means they still have to be defensively capable. It’s also worth noting that while Marco Silva made it clear they would have to find a replacement for Gueye if he left, Fabian Delph does gives Everton some support in that he takes care of the ball, isn’t afraid to make a tackle, and doesn’t foul a lot.
Since it seems unlikely that Everton will find a replacement as disruptive as Gana – and we will still give it a shot, we believe that a replacement could bring other things to the team that could make up for the loss collectively. As a result, we considered a couple different types of players and identified names that we thought matched those profiles.
One school of thought is to find a player that is going to help Everton create more chances and help breakdown inferior opponents to get more wins rather than draws. Of all the names mentioned, these couple stand out:
Franck Kessie, 22, AC Milan. Kessie gets a lot of key passes from the midfield, although he’s playing more as a CM. He was thought of highly when he made the move to AC Milan and is still a young talent, however Kessie has fallen out of favor at Milan after his blow up with Lucas Biglia on the sidelines of the Milan derby and could likely be gotten for around 30M by most accounts.
Kessie’s development seems to have stalled and his performance is headed in the wrong direction. Key passes aside, he has the 2nd fewest defensive duels per 90 of our population, makes less than 12 forward passes per 90, and the rest of his relevant stats don’t look much better. Whether it’s the environment at Milan or other factors, his regression is notable and I’m not sure he’s sound enough defensively to merit consideration.
Bruno Guimarães, 21, Paranaense. Guimaraes has played his share of CM, which may explain some of his offensive numbers, but he has the highest xA, key passes, and thru passes per 90 of anyone in our sample in the past season. It would also explain his meager defensive numbers.
However, his first touch is excellent, his passing range is solid, he’s sturdy and he’s not afraid to put in a tackle. He has played some games as a DM and to me, he looks very comfortable in the position and I believe he could be an outstanding sitting 6.
I really like Guimaraes, love his decision making and his toughness, but he’s probably a bit inexperienced to step in for Idrissa Gana Gueye immediately. He’s not far off, though, and I believe a move to Europe is right around the corner.
Thiago Mendes, 27, Olympique Lyonnais. I violated the age limit with his inclusion, but since he was rumored to be the replacement for Idrissa Gana Gueye in January, I figured I would include him to get an idea of the type of player Silva and Brands may be after.
Mendes is a terrific passer, has high xA and thru passing numbers per 90, and can create from a defensive position. He’s a good athlete who engages and wins a ton of defensive battles and looks most comfortable playing as a true 6, but can get up the field a bit and play CM. He has one of the highest successful defensive actions per 90 min of our population and can pick off passes from deep as well as tackle in central midfield.
Mendes has already moved to Lyon from Lille and will make one of the better midfields in Europe while supporting Houssem Aouar and relegating Lucas Tousart to the bench.
Another way to potentially replace Idrissa Gana Gueye is to find more of an anchorman that is extremely disciplined, excellent positionally, can pick off passes, can win balls in the air, and take care of the ball. This player still needs to be athletic and cover ground, but it might allow Gomes to push up even higher and provide cover for the backline against stronger opponents.
Diadie Samassekou, 23, Red Bull Salzburg. Although it may be a product of an inferior league, Samassekou’s numbers (and his film) are nothing short of outrageous. It’s almost comical how often he picks off passes and dispossesses his opponents. Samassekou has the highest number of successful defensive actions per 90 on our list (10.75!) and the most interceptions per 90 (7.42!), many of which were in the other teams 30 so he can press effectively as well. His.
He’s had several matches where he’s engaged in over 30 defensive duels, he even won 16 out of 20 duels in a Champions League qualifying match against Macedonia side Shkedija and scored a penalty, and was an absolute beast winning 13 of 15 duels against Napoli in a 3-1 win. He is very responsible with the ball and isn’t afraid to pass it forwards or down the field – he even shows some flair and skill with the ball, so I get the sense his offensive game is still developing. I love this player, but unfortunately for Everton, so does Dortmund who look like they are going to get an absolute steal for 20M.
Phillip Billing, 23, Huddersfield. Billing is a solid defensive midfielder who seemed to drop performance-wise during the second half of the season. At his best, he’s a 6’6” tower in the middle of the field that picks off a ton of passes (3rd on our list per 90) and wins the vast majority of his aerial duels (67%, 1st for players with over 1000 minutes in the past season).
He is an underrated offensive player – he really likes to shoot and is dangerous from distance. He loves to attempt long passes and while they look great when he pulls them off, it’s not nearly often enough compared to his peers. Billing played for a relegation side that was terrible in open play, so his numbers need to be taken within context.
I think his second-half performance and some of his comments thereafter raise some questions marks, but he is a talented defensive mid that probably will make a move to a better side this summer.
It would make sense that a player with better passing range that could move the ball up the field accurately could take the burden off of Gomes and help Everton’s transition game tremendously.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin, 23. Mainz 05. Gbamin is a big, strong defensive midfielder that was pushed into CM to get Pierre Kunde on the field, although I believe he’s a more natural defensive mid. He did play a bit of CB last season and played quite a bit coming through at Lens albeit 5 years ago, but he does have some positional versatility. Gbamin’s numbers need to be understood within the context of a Mainz team that was not good in possession.
He doesn’t play a high frequency of passes and prefers to play the ball quickly, but many of those are longer passes. His passing accuracy numbers aren’t the best, but you could tell he would get frustrated at times and try to do a bit too much with the ball. He actually has some of the best dribbling numbers of our population per 90, so he has some ability on the ball. In defense, he’s active and is a tremendous standing tackler. He completely overpowers players at times and seems to LOVE blowing guys up on 50/50 balls.
I also believe he can get a lot better in a more settled position with better players around him. He shows a high level of skill and every now and then pulls off a trick or two that may not be apparent by looking at his numbers.
Often defensive players matured later than others and I really believe Gbamin still has a lot of ceiling and perhaps Silva with his hands-on approach to training can be the one to help him reach it. Incidentally, I’ve heard it pronounced way too many ways to suggest the proper way to say his last name…Bah-man…Bah-meen…Guh-bah-meen…etc.
Kalvin Phillips, 23, Leeds United. Phillips is defensive mid as well as an undersized center back that loves to sit back and spray long passes all over the field. He has the highest average pass length in our sample as well as the second highest number of long passes and forward passes attempted per 90. Part of that is the time he is afforded on the ball in the Championship as well as his time as a center back.
His accuracy leaves a bit to be desired, but the volume of long passes naturally bring his numbers down. His defensive numbers are amongst the best of the group. He engages in a ton of defensive duels and has the highest success rate in our sample (69%).
It’s hard to say if he can make the jump to the PL and certainly it would be asking a bit much for him to replace Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton. However, he wouldn’t break the bank and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another club give him a shot.
Julian Weigl, 23, Borussia Dortmund. Statistically speaking, Weigl is the best passer in our population, however, it’s likely due to playing more minutes at CB than DM in this past season. It’s still hard to ignore the fact that he’s played almost the highest number of passes per 90 min and close to the longest average length of pass in our sample, yet leads in passing accuracy almost across the board – forward passes, lateral passes, and long passes.
If you give him time, his right foot is capable of getting it to anyone anywhere. Defensively, he averages more tackles per 90 than anyone else in our sample and has a high number of tackles in the opposition’s 30, partially as the beneficiary of an aggressive Dortmund side. That being said, he does take a lot of chances with risky tackles usually on the ground and may not have the discipline or physicality to be a top flight defensive midfielder in the PL.
He is still young and has tremendous talent, thus he wouldn’t be cheap, but I’m not sure he’s done enough to merit stepping in for someone like Idrissa Gana Gueye in a quicker, more physical league.
Sander Berge, 21, Genk. Berge is a 6’5” deep lying play maker type that is solid all around, but especially good with the ball at his feet. He shows excellent passing ranges, is one of the more accurate passers in our population, and rarely gives the ball away. He’s very good in the dribble averaging almost 3 dribbles per 90 min and at the second highest success rate in our population (76%).
He’s graceful and quick for his size, but he’s not an active defensive player in the middle of the pitch, although he does win a high number of the duels and tackles he engages in. As a pure defensive midfielder, he could improve on his ability to track runners and quickly recover back into better defensive positions. Berge very much reminds me of Andre Gomes, although he’s not playing at the same level that Gomes was at his age.
I don’t think Berge would cope well with the speed of the PL and isn’t a good enough defender to play in the current Everton midfield, but his development is worth keeping an eye on, especially if and when he makes the move to a more challenging league.
Push Forward / Run with it
Another type of player that would be interesting in Everton’s midfield is the type of player that can push the ball forward by pass or dribble and help improve team tempo as well as put more pressure along with Gomes on the opposition.
Ibrahim Sangare, 21, Toulouse. Sangare is my personal favorite and could appear in many other places on this list. He’s an absolute 6’3” beast in the center of Toulouse’s midfield who is disciplined enough to play a sitting 6 and skilled enough to push forward as a true box to box player. Sangare hasn’t come close to tapping into his immense potential and seemed to improve tremendously throughout the year.
His work ethic is second to none and almost singlehandedly pushes Toulouse forward at times. Sangare averages almost 3 dribbles per 90 min, almost 20 forward passes per 90, has the higher average number of passes into the final 30 per 90, and has the second-highest number of thru passes attempted per 90 min in our population. Defensively he engages in and wins a lot of defensive duels.
He doesn’t have very good pressing numbers, but Toulouse was usually sitting back defending much deeper than Everton would, and he has every physical attribute necessary to be successful in a more aggressive defensive scheme.
He’s also very far from the player he could become and seems to improve dramatically even throughout the past season. He wouldn’t break the bank and while he’s still a bit raw and uneven, he probably has the highest ceiling of anyone on this list. I believe he’s going to be a world-class CM/DM under the right tutelage and believe he could achieve it under Silva.
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, 23, Fulham. Anguissa should be familiar to Everton fans as he was part of a dreadful Fulham side that managed to get 3 points against the Toffees down the stretch to put any dreams of the Blues in Europe to rest. Like some others on the list, it’s tough to gauge Anguissa considering how poor his team was.
He did not get off to a good start at Fulham and sat out the greater part of 3 months with an ankle injury. When healthy, Anguissa led our population in dribbles per 90 (3.8), had lots of key and final third passes, and a high frequency of passes to begin with. His defensive numbers are middle of the road, although he does show some pressing ability.
Anguissa might be gettable as he cannot be happy after Fulham suffered relegation, but he seems more comfortable as a central rather than defensive mid. He is heavily rumored to be on the way to Villareal and likely is not the best fit for Everton at this moment.
Disruptive (future Idrissa Gana Gueye)
There is some thought that we simply need to find another disruptive player that can simulate a bit of what he does now and in the future.
Samassekou could do that with a bit more discipline although the jump in leagues would be significant.
Sangare is certainly disruptive, but in a different way as he does it with his size and length, although his work rate is comparable.
Players like Octavio at Bordeaux show some statistical similarities and some passing range as well, but isn’t quite at the level at age 25 and doesn’t win enough of his battles or have the physical attributes in my opinion to merit consideration.
Thiago Maia at Lille also shows some statistical similarities and is strong as well as good in the air, but the 22-year-old really hasn’t gotten enough game time to merit serious consideration.
If you had to choose…
I am confident Marcel Brands has scouted many of these players extensively and will bring someone in that makes sense. It does appear that it might be Gbamin, who is certainly capable and would be a good choice. He is a more natural player at defensive mid, which is where he would likely be deployed at Everton and shows more ability with his passing game than does Gana. He’s more than physical enough for the PL and while he still has a bit to learn about the position, Silva is clearly an excellent teacher and could do wonders for the Ivorian.
However, my choice would be Ibrahim Sangare. He’s still developing both physically and mentally, no question. But he’s good now and his potential is world class. His size, his work rate, his instincts are all very good. His offensive game is still raw and he’s going to make some mistakes usually out of ambition, but the foundational elements – vision, first touch, instinct – are all there as are glimpse of truly phenomenal play. If he improves at the rate he did this year with Toulouse, he’s could be a dominant defensive/central mid in the PL sooner rather than later. But his versatility is what I find most attractive. We could’ve considered him in most of our categories as he can be creative and disciplined as well as show the ability to distribute and be disruptive.
An honorable mention goes to Thiago Mendes and Diadie Samassekou. Both would be interesting alternatives but in different ways. Unfortunately, the Mendes ship has sailed and it looks as though Samassekou is off to Dortmund. I do think Gbamin reminds me a bit of Mendes and if he’s the replacement it does seem to make some sense if the rumors of Mendes being the first choice to replace Idrissa Gana Gueye in January were true.
It is also nice knowing that Fabian Delph is a solid backup in case things go south. It’s also worth noting that we looked at a lot more players than we’ve directly mentioned in this article (including but not limited to Lobotka, Zakaria, Soumare, Torreira, Diawara, Tameze, Cyprian, Lerma, Doucoure) and are happy to share our observations – perhaps we could put together a follow-up.
Regardless, Idrissa Gana Gueye leaving has a massive impact on Everton Football Club and finding a replacement is a critical personnel move for the club now and for the future.
As always, make sure you follow us on Twitter @ToffeeTargets for more up to date Everton transfer news.