By Matt Jones
It was wonderful watching Tom Davies’ goal against Manchester City again this week.
As I’m sure any social media-savvy Evertonian will know, as part of the club’s Goal of the Season vote promotion, snippets of the best strikes of the campaign have been lighting up timelines on various platforms.
And Davies’ surely has a chance of winning. The chop. The driving run. The celebration. It was the gloss on a great day. A 4-0 thumping of one of the Premier League’s elite. The 13 seconds in which the youngster picked up the ball in his own half to the moment he lifted it over Claudio Bravo were exhilarating.
It was a sequence that was illustrative of what Everton supporters have traditionally wanted from their fantasy central midfielder; directness, durability, guile and a sincere affinity with the football club were all intertwined in that passage of play.
Davies put forward an all-action portrayal of himself that day. A mass of blonde locks, slung socks and raw scouse enthusiasm. It was a bombastic arrival on the Premier League scene.
But the performances that have followed the clash against City have showcased a player that’s not all about the brash aesthetics, as Davies was on that January day.
Amid the furore surrounding the futures of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, talk about a new stadium, Everton’s record-setting home form and a possible top-six battle, the full integration of Davies into this XI has been somewhat understated in the fanbase.
And perhaps that’s been because, largely, his showings have been understatedly impressive.
The 18-year-old’s second-half display against Burnley captured that side of his game brilliantly.
Tasked with settling into a deeper role following the withdrawal of Idrissa Gueye, Davies was assured, recovering well after what was arguably his sloppiest 45 minutes in an Everton shirt. The teenager’s close control and one-touch passing prevented the visitors from ever settling into shape as they had done in the first period.
That’s the side of Davies we’ve primarily seen since City. A young man who has worked hard, kept things simple and showcased evident tactical acumen.
At times he’s been denoted with responsibility to push up in support of Lukaku and has been effective in the final third, with two goals and three assists. Yet there have been occasions, as was the case against Burnley, a more orthodox midfield berth has been his home.
Davies has carried out both jobs without complication. There have been few swashbuckling surges through midfield and hardly any flashes of skill, just sharp passing, accurate tackling and intelligent positioning. Indeed, for a footballer who looks like he’s been dropped in from a different era, there’s a traditional feel to his straightforward style.
And for a straightforward manager like Ronald Koeman, Davies has obviously made his presence felt.
Since the youngster made his first start of the campaign against Southampton on January 2, he’s been in the XI for 12 of Everton’s 13 Premier League games. The Toffees have won eight of them, having picked up victories in just two of the previous 13.
It’d be naive to suggest the Toffees’ upturn in form is solely down to Davies’ introduction, but he’s played his part.
After all, before the turn of the year this team was crying out for energy, impetus and refreshment. He’s provided it spades.
Davies would have been an easy drop too. After losses away at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, Koeman may have made the decision to take the youngster out, especially in a position where Everton have excellent depth. It wouldn’t have caused any great fuss. Yet he’s kept full faith with the tyro.
As the end of the 2016-17 season creeps up, the youngster is part of the furniture at Goodison Park. Koeman has settled on his front six, with Davies cemented in midfield alongside Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin. The youngster is a fully fledged first-team player.
He’s acting like one too. While some rising stars seem inhibited by the spotlight, Everton’s No. 26 has flourished under its focus. He’s spoken well to the club’s official website on numerous occasions and followed suit in another discussion with Soccer AM. From the outside looking in, Davies has taken his rise insouciantly in his stride.
Naturally, this piece comes with the caveats that accompany any praising a rising star. With just 14 Premier League starts to his name, Davies’ playing days are at an embryonic point. We’ve seen so frequently down the years the pitfalls that can derail the career of even the most level-headed of young players.
Still, with a five-year contract recently signed, it’s tough not to feel a bit giddy about Davies, his temperament and what he could potentially become at Everton, isn’t it?
A raiding box-to-box midfielder? A tough tackling, deep-sitting playmaker? Or perhaps a genuine all-rounder? He could be anything he wants at this point. And that’s what’s most exciting of all.