The manner in which an intrinsic imbalance within the squad has consistently undermined Everton’s season appeared to reach something of a climax on Saturday.
After a 1-1 draw with West Brom which saw the Toffees record just four shots on target at Goodison Park against the Premier League’s 19th-placed side, manager Sam Allardyce confirmed what many have feared for the majority of the campaign; Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney just can’t play in the same team.
“I think Rooney and Gylfi playing together are very shrewd, very clever and talented players but in actual terms of covering the ground it is difficult – it’s not their strength. So I have to make a big decision on who plays this one and who plays for next one.
“For me, Gylfi has been trudging away outside on the left side, so play him in the position he wants to play and see what he can do.”
Both playmakers of rather modest speed and athleticism, there are too many similarities in terms of both strengths and weaknesses, not to mention their preferred position – the single slot behind the centre-forward.
Attempts to shoehorn both of them into the same Everton XI have produced unconvincing results and it now appears Allardyce is ready to make a long-term decision between the two. One will be his main man, the other will have to make do with watching on from the bench. But that leads to a final, inevitable question; which attacking midfielder should Allardyce choose?
When you allow a player to sign on the dotted line after agreeing a £45m deal in the summer, the last thing you want to do is proclaim that you don’t believe he can play in the same team as the all-time England top scorer you also signed for an emotional return in the same window.
But, after a few months of madness at Everton, the optimism floating over Goodison Park has turned into a heavy, hanging stench. And now Sam Allardyce feels sufficiently emboldened in his job to claim that Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson cannot play in the same starting XI.
It makes sense, however. With Cenk Tosun up front, and with pace coming in the form of Theo Walcott and Yannick Bolasie either side, there probably is only room for one of the two unless some pace on the wing is sacrificed or both play in midfield – which isn’t an option many managers would countenance, and certainly not Allardyce.
And yet, when Rooney came back to the club, it was always seen as a risk. His fitness was questioned at the end of his Manchester United career, and back at Everton the same arguments were always going to be raised. With that in mind, surely it should be the Englishman who makes way in the team, taking his place on the bench to come on later in games or play more sporadically, whilst the Iceland international pulls the strings in the Toffees attack and provides one of the biggest threats in the Premier League over dead balls.
Forget about ages and price-tags; team selections should always be made on merit and on the whole, Rooney has vastly outperformed Sigurdsson this season. The Icelander can argue he’s been played out of position for most of it, but the statistics speak for themselves; Rooney has scored seven more goals than Sigurdsson in the Premier League this term while producing the same number of assists.
It’s certainly firepower Everton need at the moment, scoring just three timesn their last three games, and once again Rooney and Sigurdsson just don’t compare. One is England and Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer, the other has never netted more than eleven times in a single top flight campaign.
That’s not to say Sigurdsson is a bad player – we saw how potent he can be during three seasons at Swansea and his lethal deliveries suit a manager who has made a career from maximising set pieces. However, the 28-year-old has failed at big clubs before – he hardly made a mark during two years at Spurs – and at least until the end of the season, Rooney’s experience and pedigree seems more dependable than Sigurdsson’s underwhelming, largely ineffectual form.
So, Everton fans, who should be Allardyce’s main man? Let us know by voting below…