Everton: Realistic expectations for Tom Davies this season

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: Tom Davies of Everton runs with the ball under pressure from Jordan Henderson of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on April 7, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: Tom Davies of Everton runs with the ball under pressure from Jordan Henderson of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on April 7, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

Tom Davies is one of Everton’s best prospects, and the Liverpool-native has his fair share of plaudits. After a poor season in 2017-18 however, what should we expect from him this year?

Most Everton fans have lofty expectations for Tom Davies. And, to be fair, the rest of Europe has too.

Earlier this year, Davies was named as the seventh most promising teenager on the continent by the CIES Football Observatory. This constitutes a meteoric rise to prominence – considering the youngster broke into the Everton first team from relative obscurity just 18 months ago.

If you believed the hype, it would seem like Davies regressed in 2017-18. But it’s more likely that we overestimated Davies’ ability, and his development trajectory.

In an early 2016 interview with The Daily Mail, the then 18-year-old named his footballing rolemodels as Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets – and these names seemed to stick.  After the Liverpool local’s iconic goal against Manchester City in 2017, Marca cited this article, and breathlessly claimed that Davies “demonstrated a mix” of these superstar’s very best qualities.

This was a bit premature; Davies had started only three senior games. And, it was rather inaccurate too. According to Whoscored, Davies managed a middling 78% pass accuracy in 2016-17 – and was twice as likely to be dispossessed (1.2) in a game than complete a dribble. Perhaps Davies will become an English Iniesta – but he still has a long way to go.

Despite this disappointment, Davies is still one of the best young prospects available to The Blues in 2018-19. So, if he is to reach his potential, what are realistic expectations for his performance in the new season?

How Davies performed last season

Like most in the Everton midfield, Davies took two steps back under Sam Allardyce.

Whoscored show that Davies managed just 20 passes per game in 2017-18, as compared to 32 in the season prior. In contrast to his peers, Davies actually played fewer long balls under big Sam than he did in 2016-17. This however is likely due to a lack of involvement overall, as Everton’s conservative, route-one play frequently bypassed the midfield completely.

When deployed, Davies invariably stood in for Idrissa Gueye, albeit he was not asked to be an out-and-out anchor midfielder. Still, his role was defence-focused, and he was expected to offer the running to offset sluggish play from Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin.

Clearly, this doesn’t fit well with the Davies of 2016-17; a dynamic box-to-box midfielder, who loved to play a piercing killer ball. However, we cannot lay the entire blame at the manager’s door. Davies did not progress in key areas, which would have left him better equipped for the Allardyce regime.

Despite his deeper role, Davies’ defensive stats are suspect: he committed fouls regularly, and failed to make as many successful tackles per game as Schneiderlin or Gueye.

Davies also struggled in the air. In 2017-18, he won just one in three aerial duels, as WhoScored.com stats underline. This did little to help an Everton midfield that was all too often outmuscled by their opponents.

Davies looked aimless last year. Too often, he seemed to do a lot of running, but offer very little – and the statistics support this assessment. Part of the blame lies with Allardyce, and indeed Davies is just one of a cohort of players who were used in counterintuitive ways in the second half of 2017-18.

However, this period also demonstrated areas where Davies is lagging behind the league standard. To continue at the top level, he must bridge these gaps.

A realistic season for Davies at Everton

The 2018-19 season is an entirely different prospect for Everton’s young midfielder.

Under a new manager in Marco Silva, Davies stands to benefit from a far more attacking and expansive playing style. However, there is more competition for places too. Andre Gomes is a direct rival – who also has far more European experience and pedigree. Although Davies could hope to stake a claim early, seen as Gomes is currently recovering from injury.

Whilst Everton employ an out-and-out attacking playmaker in Gylfi Sigurdsson though, Davies needs to round out his skillset. Defensive play should be a training priority, so that the 20-year-old can contribute consistently in both boxes. With this in mind, any improvement in the air or in the tackle would constitute a massive step forward.

Davies should also look to improve his pass completion too. The Blues will not be playing route-one this year, and a three in four pass success rate will not be a good look. Ideally, Davies will mature into a midfielder who can play directly, but recycle the ball too. Composure in the tackle, and in short distribution is key to success.

Considering the number of players available at Goodison, it is likely that Davies will start most league games on the bench this year.

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This could benefit him. As an impact substitute, Davies will likely be given more creative opportunities. His pace and stamina are great late-game assets that should be exploited against tired opposition defences.

Facing a likely reduction in minutes, Davies has the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his quality, in lieu of quantity.

Everton fans should set their expectations for him on his overall development, rather than his number of appearances. Like the rest of the Blues’ youngsters, Davies needs to contribute more.

If he can improve in defence and in possession, I am confident that this season will see him make the required step forward.