Gylfi Sigurdsson is a peculiar footballer, isn’t he?
He won’t dominate games, but is capable of deciding them. He’ll give us a Leicester away or an Anfield away moment every now and then throughout a season.
Anatomically too, he doesn’t adhere to the No. 10 stereotype. He’s broad-shouldered, tall and isn’t the most natural mover. But in those moments that require pure footballing instinct to take over, his shifts in weight and shimmying of hips can surprise in their sharpness.
He puts the graft in and positions himself well in a high pressing setup, although there’s not much dynamism to his work off the ball. He’s like a middle distance runner, closing down defenders with the same regularity, albeit lack of sheer speed, as a 5,000-metre racer would punch in steady laps. Dependable. Metronomic.
Sigurdsson is a bit of a conundrum and in the coming months, his role in this Everton team feels like it’ll become a talking point.
Those on the outside of our royal-blue bubble may think that’s a strange hypothesis. Sigurdsson, after all, was joint-top scorer for the Blues last season with 14 goals; in the Premier League, he also laid on six assists to team-mates.
For a side like Everton, who are poised to rattle around in the upper-mid table again this term, that amount of productivity will be priceless to plenty. But as Marco Silva continues to stamp his influence on this team, there’s a sense a shift might be coming.
After all, the manager said in one of his first media briefings that he wanted to play a system that has no natural place for a No. 10 or a split striker—4-3-3.
“One second season I used 4-4-2 and sometimes last season three at the back in some moments but 4-3-3 is my system, depending on my No. 6,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “Depending the profile of my No. 6, I can play one and two or I can play two and one behind the striker depending on the profile of our No. 6. If we play Schneiderlin he is a player who likes to play more alone which gives more freedom to the other two midfielders and this is the system I use more.”
The club’s activity in the transfer market points towards an eventual jump towards that blueprint.
While Everton lost Idrissa Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain, they signed three central midfielders this summer—reliable reports indicate they were after a fourth in Abdoulaye Doucoure—while Tom Davies was also handed a new contract.
The Doucoure interest felt like a glimpse into the direction Silva wants to take this side.
The lack of a deal for the Frenchman means the former Swansea City man will be depended on a lot this season. But the upcoming term looks to be a make-or-break one for a No. 10 who is playing for a manager who may not necessarily want to use a one.
Especially not a No. 10 who lacks the qualities that’d typically be associated with that role.
In figures provided to TBR from Matt Cheetham of Sky Sports, in the top flight last season Sigurdsson ranked 10th for overall chances created in the division from those who played more than 900 minutes, but 77th when dead-ball situations are removed from that tally.
He also averaged just 21.7 completed passes per game last season, with Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil and James Maddison making 49.3, 51.2 and 37.2 respectively. Sigurdsson’s average of 21.7 puts him 13th in that category for the Toffees last season from players who featured for 500 minutes or more.
Silva may need to draw the line somewhere. To find a point where the productivity and promises of game-altering moments are offset by the lack of involvement Sigurdsson has in general play in a vital creative position.
Obviously there will be aspects of Sigurdsson’s game that Silva and fans cherish.
His energy reserves and intelligent movement out of possession were crucial in Everton becoming one of the best pressing teams in the division last season. In big games, he tends to shine too— Sigurdsson has scored against Manchester United twice, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in his Toffees career.
In terms of set-pieces, his delivery tends to be pinpoint, albeit it’d be lovely to see him slam a free-kick, or even a penalty, into the net early in the season wouldn’t it? That’s one area the former Swansea dead-ball specialist can significantly enhance his worth in the coming months.
But had Everton done all the business they wanted in the summer window, Sigurdsson might have been the odd man out in midfield. It feels like 2019-20 will need to be a huge campaign for the Iceland star to prevent that situation arising come next summer.
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