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Tom Davies must show he can kick on at Everton under Marco Silva
Midfielder's progress has stalled after stunning start
Last Updated: 11/09/18 3:04pm
Tom Davies only turned 20 in the summer but this still feels like a big season for the Everton youngster. With the help of former Toffees coach Craig Shakespeare, Adam Bate examines Davies' progress and what the player needs to do to kick on under Marco Silva…
Perhaps Tom Davies will always be defined by that Manchester City display. Everton's 4-0 win in January of last year was only his second league start but he was still the star. Davies covered more ground than anyone else and was involved in three goals, including a gorgeous chipped finish of his own that earned him the club's goal and performance of the season awards.
Ronald Koeman praised his composure and aggression that day but didn't go too far on the grounds that everyone else was lauding his player. Leighton Baines spoke of how Davies "finds another level" out on the pitch. Peter Reid called him "the real deal" and Everton's then U23 boss David Unsworth described it as one of the best days of his life.
Everything pointed to Davies having the pedigree to kick on from there. He had not only captained England at various age groups but trained with the senior squad at just 17. His uncle Alan Whittle had even won the title with Everton in 1970, scoring 11 goals in 15 games. But despite the lofty expectations, life has been difficult for Davies since.
One thread on a popular Everton forum debating the player's prospects this season has already garnered more than 1,000 posts. There is disagreement over everything from his true potential to his best position. Opinion is divided but inconsistency is a frequent complaint and there is frustration that he does not take care of the ball well enough.
External factors have played a part. The sale of Romelu Lukaku precipitated a plethora of new signings and when Koeman was sacked soon after, Davies was caught up in the subsequent malaise. He remains involved under Marco Silva, having started each of the last two games, but there is still a feeling that he needs to do more to impress the new man.
Craig Shakespeare got a close-up look at Davies when the former Leicester boss was appointed as the club's assistant manager under Sam Allardyce last season. He was impressed. "When Tom first came on the scene I wasn't there but I had watched him from afar and thought what a good player he was," Shakespeare tells Sky Sports.
"He burst onto the scene really and the crowd took to him immediately. When I got to work with him I really enjoyed it. He is very lively but he has a very good head on his shoulders and is very good in terms of understanding the role and wanting to improve. He has the tactical nous that you want from a midfield player and he has great energy too."
Davies has attracted wider attention because of his idiosyncrasies. The socks rolled down to the ankles certainly make him stand out. So too does the unique fashion sense and the skateboarding sessions in Liverpool city centre. Shakespeare never saw that as an issue. In fact, he believes these are traits that should be embraced.
"He used to come in wearing different gear and nobody should have an issue with that," he says. "Everything was that bit different. We have these players occasionally and rather than lambast them, we should realise that being different is a good thing rather than a bad thing. It means that he is being himself and he is not trying to be someone else."
Nevertheless, the perception of a player's off-field activities is usually shaped by what they do on the pitch. In the aftermath of that City performance, Davies' individualism was an amusement that only made him more loved. When his form began to fade, it became just another stick with which to beat an underperforming player.
Shakespeare believes that there were mitigating circumstances that affected Davies. "I just felt he got caught up in what Everton were going through," he says. "There were 38 professionals at Everton last season and Tom got lost in the system a bit. After his start he has stagnated and I am not 100 per cent sure why beyond the number of players."
Tactical changes did not help him. "They changed shape to three at the back and then we changed back to four so he had to think a lot about his roles and responsibilities in the team," adds Shakespeare. Given more defensive responsibilities following the arrival of a number of attacking midfielders, Davies was forced to curtail some of his natural instincts.
Silva appears keen to change that. The new Everton boss wants to play a pressing game and Davies' capacity to operate as a box-to-box midfielder could make him useful. He has covered the most ground of any Everton player over the past two games and became the club's youngest ever captain during the cup win over Rotherham last month.
It is an opportunity to make a fresh start and while opinions have solidified after 74 first-team appearances, it is worth remembering that Davies only turned 20 in the summer. He is still developing as a player and the hope is that the much-travelled Silva will stay put and provide the stability that Davies needs in order to fulfil his potential. It's time to focus.
"If Tom refocuses and re-energises himself this season then he has the ability and the temperament," says Shakespeare. "He just needs to get that consistency in his play. The target is to be a regular starter and if he is not then he needs to contribute each and every time he comes on as a substitute. I hope to see him go on to bigger and better things."
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