Predicting Christian Atsu's role at Everton this season
Christian Atsu is one of two new faces at Everton this season, poised to make his debut over the next few weeks along with Muhamed Besic.
The Ghana international arrives on a season-long loan from Chelsea, the same way the now-permanent signings Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku began their Everton careers last year.
So how much of a role will the attacker play this season?
On paper, he faces strong competition for regular selection. As a wide attacker, he will look to play in one of Everton’s three attacking berths behind the striker; a position Kevin Mirallas, Aiden McGeady, Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, Steven Naismith and Steven Pienaar will also compete for, making seven players for three positions.
We can dig a little further, though, to show the specific traits that Atsu will bring. Here’s a look at his statistical return in the Eredivisie—albeit a lower standard of competition than the Premier League—compared to some of Everton’s similar options last season.
|Goals + Assists per 90||0.43||0.62||0.19||0.60||0.24|
|Succ. Dribbles per 90||2.15||1.74||4.41||4.44||3.23|
|Chances Created per 90||2.07||2.32||1.15||0.91||0.98|
|Shots per 90||2.54||3.13||1.92||3.13||3.07|
As this shows, the Ghanaian will offer Roberto Martinez another explosive option, similar to the players he’s compared with here. He’s keen to take on his opponent, and in terms of chances, shots and dribbles, he supplied a more consistent blanket of production than any Everton player last season.
In short, he’s a similar option to McGeady, Mirallas and Barkley and will be expected to replace the now-departed Gerard Deulofeu.
Martinez is renowned for cherishing such potential match-winners, but a good balance is always key to the success of his system—something that will affect Atsu’s appearances.
In an effort to increase the likelihood of a match-winning contribution, these explosive options are often given a licence to remain upfield and pass off defensive duties. They will, however, generally play alongside one or even two more functional, cohesive members of the team in order to maintain the Toffees’ fluency.
In his 4-2-3-1 formation, one of Osman, Pienaar or Naismith will predominately always feature. They are more involved in combination play, trying to pass through an opponent, and are also more defensively conscious off the ball, tucking into midfield to reduce the space.
There were only two occasions where one of Pienaar, Naismith and Osman didn’t feature in one of the three positions behind the striker last season: a 3-2 home win over Swansea and a 3-2 home defeat against Crystal Palace.
Despite the win, Everton created just five chances in the game with Swansea—their joint worst creative return of the season—while the Palace result speaks for itself. Clearly the balance wasn’t right in either game.
Therefore, by labelling Atsu as another explosive option, his direct rivals for action are the players he shares most of his attributes with:McGeady, Mirallas and Barkley.
Depending on opponent, venue and various tactics, Martinez is likely to field one or two of that quartet in every game. Barkley’s current injury improves Atsu’s immediate prospects, as does Everton’s heavy schedule from September.
The Europa League will see the Toffees in action twice a week, andAtsu’s Champions League experience at Porto makes him a likely starter in most European ventures.
A possible initial scenario for the Ghanaian is a regular Europa League start, coupled with some impact appearances off the bench in the Premier League.
Depending on his and the form of others, this will increase as he progresses through the season—excluding his probable involvement in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Comparing Everton’s current squad to last season’s, Atsu is an obvious replacement for Deulofeu. The youngster endured a much longer integration process than Atsu will likely see, and his minutes were reduced due to an injury. Atsu does, however, haveMcGeady to contend with, which wasn’t always the case for Deulofeulast season.
In an attempt to keep competition fierce and manipulate form from every attacker, Martinez will rotate his options, regardless of results. IfEverton pass 50 games this season, starting 15 and making another 15 appearances from the bench—presuming he misses six weeks of action in Africa—seem a likely contribution from Atsu.