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André Gomes – reborn in Merseyside

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There is a long, long list of successful Portuguese players to have hit the highs of the Premier League throughout the years. The names of Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Paulo Ferreira spring to mind, with a youthful yet precocious Cristiano Ronaldo not to be forgotten about. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva leads the line in a fresh generation of Selecção das Quinas stars within English football, while a strong Wolves contingent of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Rui Patricio among many others complete a talented group.

However, there is one Portuguese national who has perhaps missed out on all the headlines this season, yet fans of Everton will know just how crucial he has been to their campaign so far. Unfortunately for the Toffees, they were forced to play out their opening eight league games without summer signing Gomes, who arrived from Barcelona with very high expectations, but also with a thigh injury. He was, however, thrown straight into the action upon his return, starting and playing 81 minutes in a 2-0 home victory over Crystal Palace in October, and since then neither club nor player have looked back.

The man from Grijo, not far from Porto on the east coast of Portugal, brought immense pride to his quiet hometown when he joined up with national giants Benfica, where he helped guide his side to a domestic treble in 2013/14. His starring role in the Primeira Liga caught the attention of Valencia, who in June 2015 permanently signed the midfielder after he impressed on a spell at the club the season prior. However, his situation changed once more, and this time it was La Liga superpower Barcelona who came calling.

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Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Despite all of his promise, his struggles at the Camp Nou were evident immediately, and Gomes was labelled a massive failure by supporters of the club, whose almost impossibly high standards were frustratingly not met. Despite beginning his career in the upper echelons of Spanish football with an impressive 3-0 debut victory over Sevilla, the midfielder ended a disappointing campaign with Marca’s ‘worst signing of the season’ title, prompting Barcelona to allow a loan move to the Premier League shortly after.

Such a disastrous time at the top of the Spanish league even resulted in the Portuguese national side opting to cut Gomes from the preliminary 35-man 2018 World Cup squad, despite the midfielder starting all three group games and the Round of 16 meeting with Croatia on the way to Euro 2016 glory just two years prior.

However, the 25-year-old has undoubtedly recovered from a major setback in his career to star in Merseyside this season, where he has now played 90 minutes in each of the club’s last ten league games, apart from the recent loss against a hugely talented Spurs side, where he trudged off after 53 minutes with an injury. The box-to-box midfielder has covered every blade of grass at Goodison Park in recent weeks, gliding across the surface past players with ease, boasting a passing accuracy of 86.6% from 554 passes, right up there with some of the best passers in English football.

Of those 554, 67 have been long passes, with an accuracy of 73%, while 487 have been short, with an 89% accuracy rate, demonstrating just how successful of a short passer he is. Instead of opting for long range and often futile cross-field passes – which incidentally he can pull off expertly as proved against Spurs – Gomes prefers getting the ball on the ground and moving it quickly, and it’s easy to see why. With Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman bombing beyond him on either wing, and Gylfi Sigurdsson often dropping deep to collect, Gomes has an array of options around him to start of flowing moves, while Richarlison is always an option up front should Gomes seek a precise through ball, which he has done on several occasions this season already.

His 718 touches have sometimes proved crucial, yet it is the behind the scenes work that Gomes deserves all the plaudits for. His off the ball running opens up huge amounts of space for the forwards to move into, while his quick feet and quick thinking are often the key to successful Everton attacks in the opposition half. Whether he’s been tasked with a defensive midfield role or one slightly further up the pitch, it’s evident that at 25 he has matured since his playing days in Spain and Portugal. At six foot two, Gomes can shrug off opponents with ease, with his fantastic change of pace and fantastic footwork just two reasons why he very rarely loses the ball, while the blue half of Merseyside are well aware that their new favourite has one or two tricks up his sleeve.

It’s also an immense help to have Idrissa Gueye alongside him in the centre of the pitch, the Senegal international proving his worth to both his midfield partner and indeed his club with 66 tackles this campaign, the most in the entire league. Nobody knew what sort of impact Gomes would have, but Marco Silva is slowly but surely beginning to get the best out of him, perhaps in small part due to their shared nationality, and one senses there is a lot more to come from the two.

However, nobody is perfect, and if there’s one area that Gomes must improve to be considered a Premier League standout then it’s his presence in front of goal. The midfielder has registered just 12 shots this season with a shooting accuracy of just 17% and is yet to score for his temporary club, with just one assist in 855 minutes of football. Silva’s side sit disappointingly at 11th in the league due somewhat to their failure in front of goal, and so Gomes must contribute more in the final third in terms of both goals and assists in order to share some of the responsibility with top scorer Richarlison, who has almost a third of the club’s league goals this season.

This slightly worrying problem has affected the midfielder wherever he has been, having scored four goals in 41 games at Benfica, nine in 78 at Valencia and just three in 78 at Barcelona. Even at international level, the goal-shy Gomes has yet to score in 29 appearances, and while this is undoubtedly not a central aspect to his game, Everton fans may just be expecting him to bust the net once or twice in the coming weeks.

With Champions League experience at all three of his previous employers, Gomes could genuinely go on to do great things at Goodison, particularly with a brilliant manager and an exciting young squad around him. Moreover, by expressing his honour at playing for the club and his current enjoyment of the life and freedom he is currently experiencing, Toffees fans could be forgiven for thinking they have all but signed their new number eight on a permanent deal. It would be a massive coup for Silva having already brought in Gomes’ former Catalan club mates Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina, who have settled in well in Merseyside. Despite all three being similar ages, Gomes’ experience at club and international level may just prove that he is a cut above either, with the midfielder simply needing more game time to fully adapt to the English game.

Perhaps even more significantly for Everton, with PSG talent Adrien Rabiot seemingly on his way to Barcelona, there may quite simply be no way back for Gomes under Ernesto Valverde. Fans of the club will undeniably have their fingers crossed for their midfield maestro after seeing him substituted through injury in their meeting with Spurs, but more worryingly Marco Silva may have to fight off interest from Italian side Juventus for his new prodigy. One thing is certain, however, and that is that Gomes has been given a fresh start and a new lease of life at Goodison, and all arrows are seemingly pointing in the right direction for an abundantly talented footballer.


Gomes Barca image via Getty

Everton image via Goal

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