On the back of Everton’s triumph over Manchester United, David Moyes and several of his playing staff have been thrust into the unfamiliar glare of the media spotlight. Tactics have been lauded, techniques saluted and the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jagielka have been the recipients of some highly complimentary reviews.
As players bathe in the glory of Monday’s win, one man unlikely to experience a similar surge of public admiration is Darron Gibson. Since his Manchester United days there has tended to be an almost apathetic perception of his ability, as much of his fine on-field work generally passes by unnoticed. For example, how many non-Everton fans acknowledged the delivery for Fellaini’s goal on Monday? Additionally, the fact Gibson never played a minute of Euro 2012 was seen as an outrage to Evertonians, yet Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision to opt for Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews fuelled few debates elsewhere. His unheralded reputation is strange, yet undeterred Gibson continues to complete his on-field business in an uncomplicated, low-key manner.
So why the sudden urge to highlight his input? Given that fact that when Gibson played last season Everton were victorious 55% of the time – the highest win-percentage for anyone in David Moyes’ squad – his presence is clearly useful. An even more impressive statistic was the fact the Toffees are yet to lose with Gibson on the team-sheet. In fact, the Irishman has not tasted a Premier League defeat for over two years now, and his part in the victory on Monday takes his unbeaten run to 28 games – which raises further questions about why opinions of him are so average among football fans.
His influence for Everton has clearly been significant, but what has he contributed to make the Toffees so troublesome to overcome? Here is a look some of his numbers from last season.
Whilst he doesn’t sprint away with any category, he is among the front-runners in several areas, and his consistent, rounded results emphasise his polished technique that’s effective in both halves of the field. However, the key statistic to explore further is his – and Everton’s – average passes per match. By viewing the Toffees’ tendencies before he arrived, and comparing them to what’s been achieved with Gibson at the club, it becomes apparent just how much he has helped transform Everton’s approach.
As is patently clear, thanks to Gibson and his fellow January arrivals, David Moyes has been able to adopt an ideology far more pass-friendly and attractive on the eye. By spreading the play and deliberately choosing to cross less, Everton have found scoring and – most importantly – results, far easier to attain. By already being the fourth most frequent passer at the club, Gibson is clearly very central to this.
What had stalled them before January was their one-dimensional offence, which was all-too-easily negated. Once in possession, players would slowly shift the ball laterally, waiting for an opportune moment to cross. The primary objective of attacking from wide seemed the only option after Mikel Arteta’s departure left Leighton Baines as the club’s chief creative source. Void of alternative solutions, Everton would relentlessly pepper the penalty area, even recording over 40 crosses in the 2011 home games against Stoke, Norwich and Wolves.
Thankfully David Moyes can now add variety. With Gibson and Steven Pienaar boosting the passing game, and the movement and potency of Nikica Jelavic troubling defences, Moyes’ tools are drastically upgraded. The wide approach is still employed, though with better, quicker and more frequent passes, the Toffees can now play through a team instead of only looking to go around. Being able to dissect a defence by other means, incorporating a duel threat, naturally enhances the success-rate of both approaches – hence Everton’s glut of goals post January. It’s worth noting Gibson hasn’t featured in every game since his arrival, but his purchase was certainly crucial in enabling this change of concept.
Further insight into this evolution can be gained by taking into account the contribution of Darron Gibson compared to Jack Rodwell. Conveniently they both enjoyed an almost identical time on the pitch last season and were assigned similar roles – as the central midfielder with more of a focus on distribution.
Gibson’s production compared to Rodwell shows just how transposed the passing game has become with him in this role. Having far more touches and passing more frequently is one thing, but Gibson almost entirely dominates the board, making significantly more impact at both ends of the field, with the final third entries a particularly revealing discovery. As well as decorating his value, this also entirely explains and validates the Toffees’ decision to offload Rodwell.
As well as this rejuvenated passing game, Gibson has even helped reintroduce another style of play. Against the very top sides and on some away days, the possession Marouane Fellaini can grant his side up the field often tempts Moyes to employ a direct brand of counter-attacking football. By bringing the ball down with his chest, Fellaini allows Everton instant possession in advanced positions, ideal against sides keen to occupy the ball – a ploy demonstrated against Manchester United. Fearing a weakened midfield, this was something Moyes was never entirely comfortable to persevere with, but the presence and security Gibson brings has seen it feature far more prominently since January.
While his team-mates grab the headlines, the addition of Darron Gibson may well prove to be one of David Moyes’ most shrewd manoeuvres, and his transfer is undeniably as coup. He augments the passing game, helps adds variety in attack and brings stability to midfield. Since January, the Everton manager has been afforded more structure, depth and tactical flexibility, all thanks to his well-judged January additions. Jelavic’s goals and Pienaar’s artistry will always attract attention, but the less-glamorous part Gibson plays seems every bit as essential.
This coming season, given the options at Moyes’ fingertips, Everton’s midfield is likely to become as situational as ever. Players will shuffle in and out, roles will interchange and vary and Fellaini seems likely to alternate between his defensive and offensive duties. Yet while the rest of the personnel fluctuate, expect the one constant to be Darron Gibson, pulling the strings in the heart of Everton’s midfield. Maybe by the end of the season, a few more will notice.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.