Is this 21-year-old Toffee the Premier League's most under-rated midfielder?

Is this 21-year-old Toffee the Premier League's most under-rated midfielder?

Such is the standard of players produced at FC Barcelona that many who don’t go on to make the grade in the Nou Camp end up forging successful careers elsewhere. Several current and former Premier League players, including Bojan Krkic at Stoke and one-time Tottenham attacker Giovani dos Santos, have gone down that route. One of those who featured fleetingly for Barca’s first team, and was on the cusp of Spain’s 2014 World Cup squad, is Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu. He may not be among the most talked-about players at Goodison Park – not while Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and John Stones continually draw merited plaudits – but not many seem to realise, or openly recognise, that the Spaniard in the number 19 shirt is probably the most gifted footballer at the club right now.

Deulofeu enjoyed such an impressive season in a season-long loan spell with the Toffees two years ago, when Everton finished fifth in Roberto Martinez’s first year in charge, that he returned to Barcelona in the summer of 2014 with a genuine chance of featuring in Luis Enrique’s first team squad. However, he would be loaned out again, this time to Sevilla, where he didn’t hit the same heights as he did with Everton, and he had only a bit-part role in the Andalucians’ Europa League triumph. Any hope of a prolonged Barcelona career now seemed to be lost, and it was probably beneficial for all parties when Deulofeu signed permanently for Everton this summer.

He hasn’t been an automatic starter under Martinez this season, which seems a strange scenario considering how well he has performed when given a chance. In recent weeks, Deulofeu has been particularly prominent for the Toffees. His assists turned the game at West Brom when Everton came back from two goals down to win 3-2 and he also set up Ross Barkley’s goal at Arsenal. While Arouna Kone inevitably stole the show in the 6-2 romp over Sunderland with a hat-trick, the Spanish wide man was every bit as excellent on the day, scoring one goal and generally tormenting the Black Cats’ beleaguered defence. He also stood out in the draw at West Ham last weekend. His performances are begging the question as to why he isn’t one of the first names on Martinez’s team sheet. In both games, Deulofeu contributed assists for Romelu Lukaku with two of the most sublime passes you will see anywhere on a football pitch this year. If you come across a better through ball, please get in contact with me to share the YouTube link.

In the past, the 21-year-old was criticised for being too selfish when in possession, particularly when the opportunity presented itself to set up a team-mate for a scoring chance. In his second spell at Goodison Park, Deulofeu appears more of a team player, and indeed an even better footballer, than during his impressive 2013/14. It seemed to have escaped the attention of many that he signed for Everton this summer for a paltry £4.2million. That’s less than 10% of what Raheem Sterling set back Manchester City, and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the two players, both born in 1994, are equally blessed with pure footballing talent. Let’s compare Deulofeu to another player of a similar age, Lazar Markovic. The Serbian winger cost Liverpool £20million in the summer of 2014 and doesn’t have nearly the same ability as the Spaniard.

So just how under-rated and under-appreciated is Deulofeu? I think he would be a bit-part player with Man City and Arsenal, given the abundance of attacking midfield options at the disposal of both clubs, but on current form, I reckon he wouldn’t look out of place at Liverpool, Man United or Chelsea. At any other club in the Premier League, I would indisputably have him as an automatic starter. England has feted quite a few attacking midfielders of similar ilk over the years, including Aaron Lennon, Scott Sinclair, Ashley Young, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In my view, Deulofeu is a better footballer than any of those, and is possibly the most under-rated midfielder in the Premier League right now. Imagine how good he’ll turn out to be once Martinez gives him a prolonged run of starts.

Featured image: all rights reserved by Fabio Paoleri.

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