Carlo Ancelotti could discover Everton’s next box-to-box star in River Plate midfielder Nicolas de la Cruz, only a year after signing Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford.
De la Cruz, while speaking with Sport 890 earlier this week, via ESPN, revealed he is open to leaving his Argentine side during the European summer transfer window, despite only just penning a new contract that runs through to December 2022.
The 23-year-old was due to be a free agent in a matter of months’ time but has put pen to paper on new terms to secure his immediate future, after seeing the coronavirus pandemic put any transfer hopes on hold last year.
De la Cruz expects to be inundated with offers in June regardless of his new contract, having been linked with a move to Europe earlier in the year with Marca citing Everton and Manchester City as potential destinations in England or Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.
The Uruguay international is a fundamental piece of River Plate’s midfield, starting 30 of his 31 appearances throughout the 2019/2020 season outside of injuries. He has also opened four and scored three goals in Los Millonarios’ fixtures during the 2020/21 campaign so far.
He is untested outside of South America, having only played for his boyhood side Liverpool before joining River Plate in 2017, but has frequently demonstrated his potential in the Copa Libertadores.
During the 2020 edition of the competition, De la Cruz started all 11 of his appearances and was listed in the Team of the Week on four occasions, per SofaScore. He further contributed three goals from 2.5 shots per game and two assists from 2.8 key passes a game, while missing five big chances and creating five clear-cut chances to score.
The £16m-rated enforcer was a brute defending Los Millonarios’ goal, as well, offering 1.6 successful tackles, along with 1.1 interceptions and winning a mammoth 5.5 ground duels a game.
Only Allan (3.42) and Doucoure (1.78) have won as many successful tackles per game in the Premier League this season among Everton’s midfielders, while Tom Davies (1.5), Doucoure (1.26) and Allan (1.1) offer a similar or higher amount of interceptions.
Allan is further the only Toffees engine room member to win as many or more ground duels (6.58), with double the amount of second-ranked Davies (3.19). No Everton midfielder offers more than one shot per game, while Gylfi Sigurdsson (who is first for shots with 0.91) offers the most key passes (1).
If Everton were to put their interest into action and move to sign De la Cruz in the summer, Ancelotti’s coaching techniques could see the Italian turn the four-cap international into his next Doucoure.
The Blues landed Doucoure from Watford last summer for £20m and have seen the Frenchman quickly establish himself at Goodison Park, while earning rave reviews for his “remarkable fitness” and “non-stop” running.
Doucoure says he’s learning a lot from working under Ancelotti, too, as the ex-Chelsea and SSC Napoli head coach is a “great” manager to work with.
“I always dreamed to play under a great manager like Carlo Ancelotti,” Doucoure told EvertonTV. “He’s one of the nicest guys in the world of football. He’s given me a lot of confidence and a lot of advice and I’m very happy to play under him.
“I think it’s one of the best times to be an Everton player. I think a lot of players would want to be in that team and I’m very happy to be in that team.”
De la Cruz may be more of a rough diamond, but his exploits in South America suggest he could be a Doucoure 2.0 on Merseyside under Ancelotti’s tutelage.