Idrissa Gueye has been the ideal foil for the high pressing game that Marco Silva has instituted at Everton this season; a key factor in what has been a remarkable run of defensive form since early February, especially at Goodison Park, and a platform from which the manager can build for next season. But can the club keep him?
There was a fascinating article in the Irish Times the other week by Ken Early in which he observed just how much the English game has changed over the past decade or so; from one still adhering to a more traditional style back then to one now revolutionised at the top level by possession-based football and the art of the high press.
Early begins the piece by describing one passage of play in Liverpool’s recent 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield, one in which the reds’ orchestrated gegenpressing strategy snookered their opponents in their attempts to play out from the back — itself a tactic that has become much more prevalent in England’s top division — and ultimately led to the game’s first goal.
He also spells out how Manchester City’s devastating movement and cycling of the ball can tie their opponents in knots, the ultimate expression of “system football”, and the huge increase in the number of passes in Premier League games, particularly by the best teams, compared with a decade ago.
According to the stats Early presents, teams passed the ball 358 times per game on average in 2007-08 whereas last season the average was 453; a 25% increase at nearly 100 passes more per game, per team. City’s average in 2007-08 was “a full 50 per cent more than the best passing team of 10 years ago”.
The rise of system football means that the English league today has less broken play, and more periods of controlled possession. In 2008, Premier League teams averaged almost 24 tackles per game. By 2017-18 the average number of tackles had dropped by almost a third, to just over 16 per game. Huddersfield Town topped the tackle table in 2017-18, with 744.
That led Early to reference the recent exchange between Roy Keane and Gary Neville on Sky Sports following the Manchester derby in which the former, in typically forthright fashion, lambasted United’s players for not closing the ball down and attacking the player with it.
“There is a seductive simplicity about the notion,” Early wrote, “that it’s all about character and desire: desire to get to the ball, to make the tackle, to block the shot. But this ignores how the game has changed over the last few years. There’s still only one ball – but that ball is a lot more elusive than it was in Roy Keane’s day.”
Which brings into sharp focus the brilliance and importance of Idrissa Gana Gueye, a player who perhaps more than any other embodies a counter-weight to this evolution in the English game and who seems moreover to defy simple biology. For if it were revealed that the Senegal international was the subject of a scientific experiment to surreptitiously deploy the first bionic footballer into the Premier League, would any Evertonian be all that surprised?
A look at the top tackling midfielders across Europe’s top leagues reveals that Gueye stands out on his own as the best-performing player in terms of this metric averaging 4.3 tackles per game — three players, Leicester’s Wilfred Indidi, Bordeaux’s Otávio, and Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka are clustered behind him on 3.8 — and no one connected with Everton would be surprised to learn that. Gylfi Sigurdsson may cover more miles per game simply due to his more attacking role but Gueye is so often the disruptor in front of the back four, shutting down opposition attacks and tackling anything that moves in an opposition jersey.
As such, the former Lille and Aston Villa man is the ideal foil for the high pressing game that Marco Silva has instituted at Everton this season; a key factor in what has been a remarkable run of defensive form since early February, especially at Goodison Park, and a platform from which the manager can launch a genuine tilt at the top six and, perhaps, top four next term.
That’s if — and it is a big if — Gueye is still with the Blues come August. Serious interest from Paris St Germain during the most recent January transfer window almost paved the way out of Goodison for Gueye and it’s possible that with the season in what felt at the time like ruins following the debacle at Millwall and Everton’s exit from the FA Cup, he would have left had the French side met the asking price.
Gueye himself made no secret of his desire to make what he described as a “dream move” and the chances are PSG will be back this summer to revisit a deal. In the meantime, to his enormous credit and adding to the complexity of the situation, the 29-year-old has been in sparkling form. For those Evertonians who could make peace with letting go a player whose distribution at times could be suspect and who will be 30 later this year for a decent fee, they now have someone who has used the postponement (and even potential collapse) of his dream to spur him to new heights of consistency.
Since being told by Silva and Marcel Brands that he couldn’t leave in January because he was too important — and while others voiced their doubts that he was even worthy of PSG — Idrissa Gueye has gone about proving Everton’s case while also looking every inch a player capable of gracing the Champions League for the Parisian giants. He has matched or surpassed the defensive-midfield levels he had already established since arriving for a bargain £7.1m in 2016 with a string of excellent performances in recent weeks while significantly improving his passing. As if to illustrate his linchpin status, in Gueye’s absence in the home defeat against Wolves in February, Everton’s midfield was overrun by Nuno Espirito Santo’s well-oiled side. While the loss to Manchester City which he also missed was rather more routine, it’s perhaps no accident that Silva’s team haven’t lost at home since Gueye returned from injury.
That leaves the Blues with something of a conundrum. Gueye will be turning 30 in September but his energy, health and vitality continue to defy the intensity and demands of the Premier League and he is as vital to the way Everton currently play as anyone in the side. His ability to cover every blade of grass across the middle section of the pitch provides excellent protection to the back four and his disruption of opposition attacks allows the Blues to pivot in transition and catch teams on the counter-attack at the other end.
On the flip side, there is no telling when Gueye’s impressive powers will start to wane. He will have three years left on his contract when the 2019-20 season kicks off so there is little urgency on Everton’s part to cash in on him unless they feel he might have peaked but there is the open question of how Gueye might respond if he is denied a move to Paris a second time. Will he feel that the clock is ticking on his chance to play for a top Champions League club and would the hierarchy want to stand in his way?
No one is truly irreplaceable but some players come close to it — Gueye may not ever attain Ngolo Kanté’s genuine all-round abilities (his shooting leaves a lot to be desired and he isn’t the kind to play many defence-splitting balls) — but he is a rare breed nonetheless and while his departure would only be sanctioned for a large fee that could be reinvested in quality, he would be hard to replace like-for-like. Silva won’t want to lose the Senegalese and he will surely make that case to Gueye over the summer in the hope that he has seen enough progress under the Portuguese to believe that he could achieve his Champions League ambitions at Everton.
Ultimately, it could come down to a human decision — how badly will the player want any revived transfer to Paris this summer and to what lengths do Silva and Brands go to dig their heels in and insist he stay? Has enough progress been made over the final third of the season to make Gueye feel as though it really would be worth his while to stick around for an another season at least? Or does he feel like this would be his last chance to play Champions League football and would a massive bump in pay at Goodison sway this thinking?
We’ll find out soon enough but there aren’t many players in the current Everton squad whose departure would leave you with the question: now what?
Reader Comments (38)
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1 Posted 11/05/2019 at 04:37:37
2 Posted 11/05/2019 at 04:42:32
I loved what Tim Cahill told Sky -- that the best way for us to keep Gueye isn't with money, but with big-money signings around him that would convince him we're on a CL path next season.
One thing I'm convinced of: If we lose this player, that CL path will be more of a fantasy than Dorothy's Yellow Brick Road. He's the closest thing to irreplaceable we have. Gana's tackling stats don't even tell the whole story -- he's also joint 7th in the Prem in interceptions. Very simply, he's one of the best ballwinners on the planet. And this club has nobody else who can even come close to filling that role.
3 Posted 11/05/2019 at 05:36:44
4 Posted 11/05/2019 at 06:44:45
Should that not be happening, I see no reason why he still won't be with us next season, he is truly the one player who would be sorely missed should he move on.
Having said that we should be looking to the future, and Gana won't be getting any younger, should he stay with us, we hopefully can get a younger player in his mould in, which won't be easy.
5 Posted 11/05/2019 at 06:49:12
6 Posted 11/05/2019 at 07:45:51
I recall Mike Gaynes and myself defending Gueye to the hilt.
To Silva's credit, I think he changed his system a bit to let Gueye "wander" more and do what he does best - win the damn ball.
I have so enjoyed watching him play. He's a freak of nature.
To his immense (immense!) credit, when he didn't get his move, he just buckled down and played even better. You just don't see that nowadays with most athletes. He's a good egg and a gem.
I don't know if he'll be here next year, but no matter how that pans out, I've loved watching him play. He's just a joy to behold.
We can't and shouldn't lose him. But if we do, and he is getting to an age where sooner or later his energy and pace will wane, I think we'll be okay.
Silva adapted, eventually, through a few bumps this season. He let Gueye be Gueye and adapted his "system" to fit that player. Silva also tried to put Richarlison up top to fit his vision and system, and that didn't work and moved him back out wide. In short, I've seen Silva adapt his preferred idea of a system to the players he has at his disposal. And that gives me hope.
Silva will do the same if we lose Gueye. And it will be with another player I and a few others laud, but a player who gets a hell of a lot of flack from a lot of TWers. It's similar to objections about Gueye not but a year ago, these objections to this player I will name in just a minute. All superficial malarkey, in my opinion.
If Gana leaves, we will enter the era of one Tom Davies. And people will rip young Tom to shreds for having this shortcoming, or that deficiency. But Silva will adapt his approach slightly enough to play to his strengths. And Tom Davies, although an entirely different type of player to Gueye, will adapt and grow and be near irreplaceable in the end.
I hope we don't lose Gueye. If we do, we have a kid behind him who will fill his shoes. The growing pains will be real, and there will be bad days. Hell, Everton might lose a year barnstorming the big boys waiting for this "replacement" in Tom Davies, to flower and grow.
But he will. Tom Davies is the future of the Everton midfield, post Gana Gueye.
If Gueye goes, trust in Brands and Silva to eventually get it right. And my guess is the Plan B to get it right, is with Tom Davies anchoring midfield.
Save this post to beat me with if Tom Davies goes south. But I'm of the mind Gana is off this summer, and Tom Davies will step up and develop into one of England's finest midfielders.
Yes, Tom Davies generally plays in a more advanced position than Gana. But that's where Silva comes in. I'm not intelligent or "football knowledgeable" enough to know how you rework midfield to make it tick with Davies in and Gana out, but I think Marco Silva is intelligent enough to solve that puzzle.
Prepare for life without Gana, and with Tom Davies. And if that doesn't come to pass and my crystal ball is shit, fine.
I'll watch Gana ply his trade in a Blue jersey all day long.
Gana is a gem.
7 Posted 11/05/2019 at 08:22:11
Lets pray he stays, hes the heart beat of this team and if we lose him, plus say we dont get Zouma, and Gomes, thats a big chunk of the spine of the team gone.
Hes essential to this squad and we must do all possible to keep him.
8 Posted 11/05/2019 at 08:27:38
Those words worry me a bit. I hope he isnt signalling to the board (or the money part of it), who should know all of that very well.
Gana is excellent and has another 3 years at the top at least. But the key word is “top”.
9 Posted 11/05/2019 at 08:32:58
10 Posted 11/05/2019 at 09:28:22
11 Posted 11/05/2019 at 11:04:09
Gueye isnt a foil for our high pressing game. Hes the number one cog making it work.
In any case, ive always been a fan, but he has improved even more than anyone could have imagined. Hopefully he can see that we are perhaps a striker away from having a really decent team. If we can buy Zouma, Gomes and a 20 goal a season striker (ok im being greedy!), and sell off some deadwood, we can have a good crack at the top 6 next season. Gueye is integral to any plans we have for next season.
12 Posted 11/05/2019 at 11:37:10
What a player btw. Awesome now his passing has improved.
13 Posted 11/05/2019 at 12:09:24
In the form he has been in we cannot replace him, I like Man U's Herrera and even more Arsenal's Torriera, but that wont happen. Doucoure is far from a direct replacement, but maybe the one that could be achievable.
Other than that we have to trust Mr B to come up with the goods.
14 Posted 11/05/2019 at 12:29:49
I hope he cleans up at the awards.
15 Posted 11/05/2019 at 13:41:03
Just have to hope nobody wants him that badly then!
16 Posted 11/05/2019 at 13:57:21
Nonsense I'm sure we all agree. I found it inspiring that he chose to give his all to the club that offered him a lifeline from Villa and wanted the fans to know he was not sulking. The improvement in quality came from that desire but also from his own self-confidence, and Silva must take some credit for this.
At his age, however, there is a steep drop coming in the near future. It is foolhardy and emotionally naive to think otherwise. The likes of PSG can afford a 'peaked' player. I don't believe we can - at the moment.
I said at the time that he should be allowed to leave if our valuation is met and I stand by that. He will go with my blessing and I am confident that Brands will invest that money wisely and Silva will protect that asset.
17 Posted 11/05/2019 at 14:14:13
Looking purely at next season, the club would surely prefer to keep him. A like for like replacement would cost at least as much as we would receive for Gueye. If however we are building for the longer term, say two to three years, and hence aiming to reduce the average age of the squad, it would make sense to take the money and bring in a younger player with the potential to develop into the next Gueye.
Of course there is no certainty PSG or a comparable Champions League club will be prepared to meet our asking price or the players salary expectations.
18 Posted 11/05/2019 at 14:16:45
19 Posted 11/05/2019 at 15:06:04
As for Gana himself, he's been my favourite since he arrived and it is obviously not lost on Evertonians that he has been an absolute pro since the end of the transfer window.
Want him to stay and help implement this aggressive Silva style, or if he goes then it should break their bank.
20 Posted 11/05/2019 at 16:06:19
Gueye's problem was he was in an Everton squad of slow learners, but thankfully they are showing signs of being up to speed. His other problem was the right flank occupied by a below-par Coleman and Walcott avoiding injury. Coleman is up to speed now and Walcott is a bit-part player. This resulted in Gueye being stretched and resorting to inaccurate long passes.
Silva and Brands will do everything to keep him. He is, as Lyndon says, central to the Silva system. Silva does know this and it was rumoured that he would have resigned if Gueye was sold in the January transfer window.
I think that Gueye knows that Brands and Siva are determined to keep him, To his credit, he decided to knuckle down after the PSG who-hah had died down.
21 Posted 11/05/2019 at 16:12:54
Peter #19, Beni is 20. Bit soon to write him off, I think. And while it may seem like "a few years", it's actually only been 17 months since his last appearance in blue. So as Dennis says it's one "lost season" and I believe he has a chance to bounce back from that.
22 Posted 11/05/2019 at 16:18:27
I stand corrected on the 17 months though, but that is still a bad slice of development time lost through no fault of his own.
23 Posted 11/05/2019 at 16:50:02
His limitations were exposed when playing for Koeman and Allardyce. There was no press in front of him and he was often the lone guard dog going for balls that were not his; when he did get the ball, his teammates were static, which exaggerated his poor passing.
He is playing in a different system now. He isn't the first line of defence. He spends far more time on his feet. The movement is better and he is able to play simple balls to more creative players. He has also developed the wonderful habit of winning the ball and surging forward himself.
Those who said he barely offers anything going forward were right. His passing and his shooting are nowhere near where they should be for an experienced international, but fuck me, you've gorra love this guy.
25 Posted 11/05/2019 at 18:56:40
Tom Davies Im not so sure about. I dont see what his strengths are other than enthusiasm and energy (see Paul Dickov). Hes still very young but not seen a lot of progress from him in last 18 months.
If Gueye does go he will be very, very hard to replace. But I trust Silva and Brands.
26 Posted 11/05/2019 at 19:13:13
I can't see many like him in world football in what he offers. Completely gutted if he leaves, but a massive thank you and respect if it comes to pass. Here's hoping he stays. What's more, his attitude and demeanour put him in the same category as Seamus. Class acts indeed.
27 Posted 11/05/2019 at 19:23:42
Players like him, tackling machines with a massive engine, are rare and critical in enabling the rest of the team to play to potential. I agree with what was said about the game having changed massively in recent years and Keane being a dinosaur with his outdated views. Unbelievable that it is English teams that have bought about this step change and that we provide all of the teams in the European cup finals.
Everton have also done very well in the transition to the modern realities. Koeman failed; Allardyce the dinosaur obviously failed; Sylva, the young upcoming man, knew what was needed. Get rid of him? You have got to be joking.
28 Posted 11/05/2019 at 19:36:17
All hypothetical at the moment though.
29 Posted 11/05/2019 at 20:50:54
Seriously we have a full cargo of hangovers to try and dispose this summer, and Ill be amazed and very impressed if we get takers for these players, KM, Sandro, and the rest, but I think well get some money for Besic.
Perhaps Jags and Baines, may join one of the promoted teams, or go for a few seasons at Celtic or Rangers?
But we must try and keep Gana at all costs, Id make him Captain, as no one drives the team more and works harder than Gana.
Lets hope so.
So tomorrow and the new Spurs stadium. Can we put a win together, relying on Theo and maybe Mola, or Cenk?
30 Posted 11/05/2019 at 21:45:09
Maybe we do have a shot at keeping him. If you're at the Spurs game tomorrow, you and the rest of the traveling boys show him some extra love, OK? Work up a chant or a song.
31 Posted 11/05/2019 at 22:06:13
I've got to give him massive credit though because a lot of players would have spewed it when the dream move went west. But, no, he's got better and he's looked vital to us. But before that, like I said, he was just ok. Still, I hope we don't lose him.
32 Posted 12/05/2019 at 00:28:02
In front of them, Barry was again supported by the imperious Idrissa Gueye who turned in another man-of-the-match display of stunning effectiveness. The Senegalese seemed to cover every blade of grass, tackled anything that moved, and again weighed in with an assist, all of which added to his burgeoning reputation as the undisputed signing of the summer.
Since January, his performances have gone up a notch, taking the ball on more with a new found confidence. Player of the season for me.
Thanks for flagging that article Lyndon. I read it when published last week and saved the paper for a second read. Tactics have moved on at the higher levels with the clever team pressing leaving options for opposition players that may look inviting, but are in essence, a carefully laid trap. Needs the involvement of every player.
33 Posted 12/05/2019 at 08:44:01
Gueye is the ultimate round peg for modern football and there are round holes that he would fill in most top sides in Europe. When I say most valuable I don't mean in money terms because he's just a little bit old but most valuable in playing terms given the criticality of that holding role in the modern game. Strictly speaking he doesn't need to be a great passer or scorer. He needs only to get the ball from the back to the midfielders without losing it. He does this very well.
34 Posted 12/05/2019 at 18:20:49
We need goals. The RS rely on that front 3 but they are supported by two of the best wing backs. While Digne has supplied more crosses than anyone, our forwards can't get into the right areas to get on the end of them. I think that will come, Calvert-Lewin will get better, most of them will... Davies included. And I'm sure he's picked up things from Gana.
Tim Cahill is correct in saying we need to show the Premier League we mean business — and, to some extent, we already have. Gana is one of the best at what he does. The team are growing together. Not the end of the world if he leaves but it would put us back a bit when we should be concentrating more on getting the goals — that is the big difference between us and them.
35 Posted 13/05/2019 at 19:46:26
36 Posted 13/05/2019 at 19:56:09
37 Posted 13/05/2019 at 20:06:27
38 Posted 13/05/2019 at 20:10:20
Silva said that he had a lot of one on one conversations with Gueye, when he wouldnt let him leave, and I personally think that whatever was said, has definitely made this little player, a much better all round footballer.
Hes running more with the ball, hes turning more with the ball, hes still working his socks off, he still gives the ball away through a lack of concentration, (understandable when you consider his work rate) but he definitely looks a lot more of a complete midfielder, and one that I really dont want Everton to lose.
39 Posted 13/05/2019 at 20:32:00
Why on earth would we want to part exchange Digne for Danny Rose, a player who is 29 years old in a couple of months, and has recently said he cannot wait to retire? No chance of this happening.
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