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Picking up a point against Manchester United at Goodison Park should have been a reason for Everton fans to cheer last weekend. Yet the sight of £29 million pound signing Yannick Bolasie going off injured after 68 minutes overshadowed events on the pitch.
The 27-year old winger has ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee, and the injury looks so bad that he could be out until 2018.
With four assists and one goal this season, Bolasie has been crucial to Ronald Koeman's success. Playing on the right of a 4-3-3 his power running, willingness to take on defenders and understanding with Romelu Lukaku played a huge part in their superb early season form.
Now, the Dutch boss has admitted that he will need to dip into the transfer market in January to fill the huge void left by Bolasie.
Dutchman with a point to prove
Memphis Depay hasn’t enjoyed the best of times since arriving at Manchester United in a blaze of publicity from PSV Eindhoven. That summer he was handed the famed No.7 jersey and was expected to become a world-beater for Louis van Gaal’s team.
In 29 appearances he scored just twice in the league and didn’t register a single assist. He attempted, on average, just one dribble per game and 0.4 key passes per game.
During his last season in the Eredivisie he was attempting 2.7 dribbles, picked up five assists and scored 22 goals. It was clear why United were signing him and what they hoped he would bring.
Depay has made one United start this season, Schneiderlin just three. Both overlooked for Europa League trip to Zorya. Time to go, chaps
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) 7 December 2016
At PSV you saw a confident, fearless winger. He would invite the defenders in before using his strength and pace to burst past. Either he would fire off a shot with his deadly right foot, or get his head up to pick a pass. For United, he now looks like a shadow of the player they scouted. He’s trying to beat opponents with just his speed, not having the belief in his own ability to invite them closer. Every now and again you get a glimpse of the old Depay, suggesting that he is still in there somewhere. Linking up with Koeman in new surroundings, without the huge expectations on his shoulders could be an ideal move for everyone.
The Young Pretender
After impressing at Birmingham City, Demarai Gray is another young winger that has failed to live up to his potential since earning a move to the Premier League.
However, the 20-year-old, with just one Premier League start at Leicester City, hasn’t been handed the chance to prove himself just yet. Claudio Ranieri prefers to use Marc Albrighton or Albert Musa on the left of his 4-4-2, and then Riyad Mahrez on the opposite flank.
Whether it’s a lack of experience or the Italian's reluctance to change things up, it’s hard to see why Gray hasn’t played more this term, especially with the Foxes struggling. His defensive numbers, both at Leicester and Birmingham, stack up well against his team-mates, but it’s his numbers going forward that suggest he is not the option Koeman would be looking for this winter. In the Championship, Gray only scored once and added a single assist last season, although he did average a whopping 2.8 shots and two successful dribbles per game. With 1.2 key passes each match, his creative numbers should have been higher. Stepping up to the Premier League, his completed dribbles have more than halved and his key passes are down to 0.3, although he has already matched his contribution in terms of goals and assists – including an absolutely stunning strike at Old Trafford.
There is talent there, but even a loan deal to Everton wouldn’t benefit the Merseyside club. Leicester would always want him back and, even if he was to shine, there is not a big enough upside for Koeman to push for the move.
Linked with moves to Liverpool and Arsenal in the past, Stade Rennais winger Paul-Georges Ntep could be an exciting move that Everton might chase in January.
The 24-year-old started the season injured but has recovered to start 11 games this term, picking up five assists and one goal. He is a speedy, tricky winger who made a name for himself cutting in from the right to score some special goals with his right foot.
His dribbling numbers are up there with Bolasie, averaging 2.2 per game. He also takes 1.9 shots and makes 1.8 key passes per match. Ntep can play wide in a 4-4-2 and as a winger in a 4-3-3.
— Witty Futty (@wittyfutty1) 4 December 2016
What has really improved over the past 18 months is his delivery and ability to pick out team-mates. Something that Koeman will miss from Bolasie’s absence and an area that Ntep would help recover. Ntep’s contract is up in the summer and, although he has been vocal in his wish to sign a new deal, until that is done Rennes could be tempted to cash in this January before he can leave on a free.
If Everton can’t persuade Depay to join the club in the winter they may continue the discussion with Manchester United and look to bring in Ashley Young from Old Trafford.
The 31-year-old has made just four appearances this season, playing at right-back and up at left-wing. The former Aston Villa player could relish the opportunity to play a starting role once again in the Premier League. If Depay isn’t going to leave, the chances of him earning more time under Jose Mourinho is very unlikely. Although he is not one for driving at defenders anymore, and his days of beating defenders with a dribble look behind him, he still has a lot of quality in the final third.
Able to play on either wing, he is comfortable delivering the ball with both feet. His game is ultimately based on skill. All the veteran needs is a half yard of space and he has the quality to deliver dangerous balls into the box. The type of service that Lukaku would thrive from.
He may have only picked up seven assists over his last 47 appearances, but until Zlatan Ibrahimović this term, United haven’t had the right kind of striker to benefit. In the last two seasons, he averaged 0.6 and 1.7 crosses per game and just over two accurate long balls per match. The latter is up there with his numbers while at Aston Villa in 2011.
Young picked up 10 assists the season before he moved to United. He may not get back to those kinds of numbers if he moves to Everton, but he would definitely add another dimension to their attack as he still has a lot to offer.
Best Deal for Everyone
Depay is the player that Everton should pursue first. Rather than pay the money upfront, the Toffees should try to convince United that a loan deal with an option to buy is the best deal for everyone.
You need to give the winger something to aspire to. You want Depay to feel wanted and needed. But paying big money in January is a risk after how spectacularly he has failed at Old Trafford.
His form at PSV highlighted all the traits that the Merseyside club are looking for. If his countryman can find a way to unlock that potential there is still a wonderful player there.
If he fails to rekindle that type of return, you let him go back to United and look at other options in the summer. That is the sort of low-risk deal the Toffees should be prioritising.