Why is Gylfi Sigurdsson still struggling at Everton?

Record signing on the fringes in open play

By Matt Cheetham, Stats & info @skysportsstatto

Image: Will Gylfi Sigurdsson have an improved second season at Everton?

Gylfi Sigurdsson had a limited impact in his first season at Everton and remains on the periphery of the action this term. Matt Cheetham takes a deeper look at the stats and reasons behind his struggles...

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Marco Silva's final roll of the dice during Everton's recent draw with Huddersfield was to withdraw club-record signing, Gylfi Sigurdsson, with 14 minutes remaining - a player signed specifically to unlock crowded defences.

Whether that was the right move is open to debate. Perhaps the midfielder would have turned the game with a late long-range finish, or a set-play assist. From open play, however, there's no doubt he was contributing little to the cause.

Image: Sigurdsson's match stats vs Huddersfield

In 76 minutes, Sigurdsson hadn't dribbled past a defender, touched the ball in the box, or recorded a shot at goal. Furthermore, he'd completed just 10 passes - only one coming in the final third - with just one to his striker, Cenk Tosun.

For context, Everton had completed 328 passes during his time on the field, and Ademola Lookman completed more as a substitute.

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This lack of impact remains a troubling trait for Sigurdsson, who has struggled to consistently supply chances from open play. His first season went as advertised. Four Premier League goals and three assists included some memorable strikes from distance and key set-piece deliveries. He was also one of his side's better players off the ball.

From open play, though, his contributions were fleeting, as had been the case at Swansea. He created just 16 chances all season - fewer than team-mates Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Leighton Baines, while Mark Noble, Darren Fletcher and Jake Livermore were among those to create more in similar time on the pitch.

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A merry-go-round of managers clearly impacted that first year, but early showings in his second season have done little to alleviate concern. In Everton's first game, it took him 24 minutes to complete a single pass, before he was the first man substituted with his side down to 10-men.

His current average of 15 successful passes per 90 minutes ranks 79th of the 83 midfielders to play significant minutes this season - hardly the return of a player flourishing under new management. Using Opta's starting XIs, and comparing him with those playing similar central roles so far, his lack of involvement is highlighted further.

Selected attacking midfielders - Premier League 2018/19

Player Successful passes per 90 % of team's total Successful passes in final third per 90 % of team's total
David Silva 63.3 10.4% 27.0 15.2%
Christian Eriksen 48.5 11.4% 15.3 16.0%
Aaron Ramsey 39.0 9.3% 17.2 17.7%
James Maddison 37.7 9.9% 13.5 14.6%
Pascal Gross 20.6 8.2% 9.5 17.4%
Gylfi Sigurdsson 15.1 4.6% 4.8 6.3%

Sigurdsson's return of passes equates to fewer than 5% of the total Everton average per game - less than half as much as other players in his position. The numbers are similar, if not more damning, when using passes in the final third.

Part of this inability to get on the ball is to do with his team-mates, too. Everton have been unable to field any sort of progressive passer in central midfield, which won't help, while the Toffees have noticeably attacked down the flanks this season, effectively deploying the Iceland international as a second striker, at times.

Highest proportion of attacks down flanks - PL 2018/19

Team Total
Huddersfield 80%
Wolves 79%
Everton 78%
Brighton 78%

All of this leaves Everton short of a creative identity. Sigurdsson has always filled highlight reels with long-range strikes and dead-ball deliveries, while thrilling fans with his work-rate off the ball. Everton may win some of their next matches as a result of this, but it wouldn't solve the bigger issue.

There's little doubt Sigurdsson's input is key, yet remains alarmingly peripheral - and he's been signed to be his club's creative focal point. Until a way is found to feature him more, or that prominent presence is identified elsewhere, Everton will find it hard controlling games and breaking down defences.

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