How Demarai Gray Will Improve Everton: Analysing Everton’s New Signings

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When looking at Everton’s squad from last season, it could be argued that there wasn’t a single player whose best position is on the wing. James Rodriguez, Richarlison, and even Alex Iwobi and Bernard all tend to be better off in more central areas. This meant that Everton needed to add wingers this summer, and that’s exactly what they’ve done through the signings of Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray.

Although very cheap, some fans have questioned the quality of the two signings. The assumption appears to be that they’re squad players and not first team starters. However, is that the case? Or are the two new boys good enough to improve Everton’s starting eleven?

Hopefully Townsend and Gray (along with offering width) can provide the creativity that Everton were crying out for last season. Everton registered the 14th most shot-creating-actions last season, below sides like Fulham and Wolves. Part of the reason for this was the lack of players who can carry the ball progressively.

Often (mainly at home, hence the poor results) Everton would come up against a side who were utilising the low-block, and would struggle to create anything. The Everton players would be static upon receiving the ball, making it easy for the defending side. This is highlighted by the fact that Everton (last season) ranked as the joint second worst for successful dribbles that lead to a shot attempt, along with West Brom. They only led Burnley in this statistic, outlining how Everton’s lack of mobility on the ball severely hindered creativity.

This is where Evertonians will be hoping Townsend and Gray can enhance the side. Through analysing statistics from the last two league seasons (2019/20 and 2020/21) I’ve tried to determine the areas in which the signings could improve Everton. The two players have been compared with Richarlison and Alex Iwobi, as well as the recently departed, Bernard. All statistics are taken from the FBRef website.

Much-Needed Creativity

As previously mentioned, a key area that Everton need to improve is the creativity. When analysing goal-creating-actions and key passes (shown below) Demarai Gray appears to be very impressive. It should be noted, however, that although the statistics are using an average per 90 minutes, the sample size for Gray is smaller than the others. The former Bayer Leverkusen and Leicester man played just 1083 league minutes over the last two seasons; the equivalent of just twelve ninety minute games. In comparison, Bernard played around 700 league minutes more, whilst Iwobi and Townsend played over 3000 minutes. Richarlison played almost 6000 minutes; the equivalent of almost sixty-six ninety minutes.

Regardless, when Gray did play, he was very creative, easily surpassing the other listed players for both goal-creating-actions and key passes. He registered 0.66 goal-creating-actions per 90 minutes, more than double Bernard’s 0.31 which is the next best. Such effectiveness is achieved through the direct style of play that Gray appears to have. As seen in Florida’s pre-season games Gray likes to use his pace, take defenders on, and is generally very positive in his play. This is indicated in the next section. Unlike Gray, Townsend appears to offer similar levels of creativity to Everton’s wingers of last season.

Attacking Intent

The positive, exciting style of Gray is emphasised when analysing his carries into the penalty area, where he again ranks as the superior player. Per 90 minutes he made 2.33 carries into the penalty area, and this was almost double that of Richarlison at 1.2. As mentioned earlier, the need for this is clear when realising that (last season) Everton created the joint second least shots from successful dribbles.

Along with carries into the penalty area, the livewire Gray also takes a lot of shots; more so than even Richarlison. This perhaps shows he gets himself into promising areas, whilst the shots themselves could create opportunities, even if deflected or through rebounds.

Again, Townsend doesn’t appear to be too impressive in this area, and ranks in a similar position to Iwobi and Bernard. The former Crystal Palace winger could be useful, however, through another aspect of creativity; his crossing to Everton’s aerial powerhouse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Feeding Big Dom

Calvert-Lewin won the 6th most headers in the Premier League last season. Providing the Everton number 9 with more chances in the air will be hugely important this season. As seen below, this is where Gray and Townsend could shine, as they produce more crosses than Everton’s options of last season.

Townsend himself has admitted it’s likely that he’s been signed for his crossing ability, with (according to WhoScored.com) the winger having the best cross accuracy (25+ attempted, excluding corners) in the Premier League last season. Meanwhile, his new teammate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored the most headed goals in the Premier League last season (7).

Townsend and Gray rank similarly to Bernard and Iwobi for passes into the penalty area, which could be another avenue to provide for Calvert-Lewin; a striker who proved his clinical nature by outscoring his xG and registering the 4th highest shots on target percentage of any Premier League player last season.

Rafa’s Defensive Work

Along with his crossing ability, it’s likely that Townsend has been brough in because Rafa Benitez has worked with him before, and knows that he possesses sufficient work-rate and defensive capabilities to operate in what is often a pragmatic and conservative Benitez style of play.

This is highlighted in the graph above, with Townsend excelling over the others. Gray meanwhile (although strong in attacking positions) ranks fairly poorly in this area. This may result in Gray playing centrally (as we saw in pre-season) and not as part of the hard-working two banks of four in front of the Everton goal.


Goal Contributions

Lastly, Everton need more output from their attacking players. They’ve been heavily reliant on goals from Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison in the last couple of seasons, and they need some of the others to contribute. This is where Gray could help, as he scored 0.25 league goals per 90 minutes over the last two seasons; just less than Richarlison. Townsend, however, scores about as many as Iwobi.

Furthermore, Gray ranks well in terms of assists, registering 0.31 expected assists per 90 minutes over the last two seasons (the same as Richarlison).

Demarai Gray’s pace and ability to carry the ball is what Everton desperately needed last season, and I believe his attributes will enable Everton to be more creative this season.
Andros Townsend, on-the-other-hand, is unlikely to provide as much of an attacking threat as Gray. However, his crossing ability and work-rate off the ball could be valuable for Everton, and the way in which Benitez will want to play.

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