Photo: Everton FC
While Roberto Martinez may have one or two more tricks up his sleeve, the signing of winger Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea is likely the missing piece to Everton’s puzzle. From both a numbers and quality point of view, left (or, I suppose, right) wing was the club’s biggest area of need.
The comparisons to Gerard Deulofeu — the player Atsu replaces — will be present throughout the season, so it’s best we not avoid them. By all accounts, Atsu has the ability to be everything we wished Deulofeu would be last season: an explosive and aggressive attacker who could beat his man on the flank, but also knew when to play in a teammate with a clever pass. It was that last bit that Deulofeu lacked.
Paul Riley at StatsBomb put together this brilliant graphic comparing the two players.
While their graphs are similar, the difference between the two players could not be more clear. Atsu shot less and made more key passes, while Deulofeu passed less and shot more. By this visual, Atsu is the player we’ve been looking for.
But that’s not what interests me about the picture.
Look to the left side of each player’s graph and note the area marked “Successful Dribbles.” Atsu, while not Deulofeu’s equal, is not far off the pace. That’s big.
When Martinez took over last season, he changed Everton’s approach to the game. The team began to play a possession-oriented style, and everyone started talking about Everton’s beautiful passing. And they were right, it was beautiful.
It was beautiful and it reminds us of the School of Science and it’s the way forward and it just maybe isn’t exactly the reason why the club reached their highest point total in history.
We are, for a moment – and only a moment, I promise – going to pretend that Steven Naismith did not play for Everton last season. How many times do you remember beautiful, clever passing leading to an Everton goal?
A few, but not that many. Certainly not as many as Barca are apt to score in a month.
What changed for Everton last year was the players’ aggressiveness on the ball. They were relentless going forward. Where Kevin Mirallas was once as a breath of fresh air, Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman, Romelu Lukaku and, of course, Deulofeu were matching Kev’s willingness to take a man on. When this team got on the ball, they ran right at the opposition, often times running right down their throats.
It was also beautiful.
Deulofeu, for all the cries of selfishness, did this as well as any player on the pitch. Sure, there were many times that the team would have been better served by Deulofeu passing the ball on. But there were many moments Deulofeu created out of sheer accumulation of pressure, like his goal against Cardiff, and the Wes Brown’s own goal for Sunderland.
If Atsu’s form translates from the Erevidivise, the versatile attacker could turn into the playmaker we hoped Deulofeu would become, picking apart defenses with his speed and passing ability.
But let’s also hope Atsu isn’t shy about hammering away at the defense, too.