As Everton fans watched their side beaten 3-1 by West Ham on Sunday, their focus was not on the players on the pitch. Instead, it was on those missing from it.
In particular, a pair signed from Barcelona at the end of the transfer window. While star man Richarlison’s absence was a major issue once more, it was Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes that fans were dreaming of.
Neither has featured for the Blues so far but already it has become clear that Marco Silva needs both back sooner rather than later. They may be crucial to how he wants Everton to develop under his leadership.
First, there is Mina. Those who watched the World Cup this summer will have been impressed by his performances for Colombia. A headed goal in England’s last 16 win over La Tricolor one of several standout moments in a strong tournament.
Tall, athletic, powerful in the air and comfortable in possession, the 23-year-old has all the attributes that managers look for in a modern centre-half. Likewise, he has all the qualities to make him a perfect fit for how Silva wants to play.
The Everton boss prefers his team to play high up the pitch, the backline pushing forwards to squeeze the pitch. Often, this can leave them exposed in defence.
It requires pacy, athletic centre backs capable of quick recoveries. It also requires central defenders who are proficient at reading the game, who are able to spot danger developing and dealing with it.
A level of comfort on the ball and willingness to carry it into midfield to is another pre-requisite.
Everton’s current defensive options are lacking in all those regards. Mason Holgate’s performance against West Ham was a perfect demonstration of that fact.
Up against Marko Arnautovic, the 21-year-old suffered throughout. Mina represents an upgrade on the Everton graduate in all regards.
Not that Holgate was the sole cause of his team’s struggles. As midfield performances go Everton’s was woeful. The problem was the pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye and their lack of ability on the ball, particularly in an offensive sense.
Both are happy to sit in front of a defence and protect it. Schneiderlin’s reading of the game is exceptional on his day while Idrissa Gana Gueye can be akin to N’Golo Kante at winning back possession.
When it comes to hounding and pressing teams, the Senegalese international is key men for Everton. Task either with doing more than defensive work, though, and problems arise.
Against West Ham, this became painfully clear. When Holgate or Zouma came out of defence, there was no midfield option.
The connection between the defence and offence was missing courtesy of a midfield that went into hiding. As a result, Gylfi Sigurdsson was peripheral and possession turned over repeatedly.
As has been the case for many years, Everton needed a central midfielder who could dictate the play. It is a problem they have had since Mikel Arteta departed.
The hope is that the Portuguese midfielder is the man who can fill that void. To put it bluntly, Gomes is the passer that this midfield needs.
He showed this in the 2016/17 Champions League he shone in the passing stats. By March that year, Gomes had the highest pass completion in the entire competition. He also led the charts for pass percentage in the opposition half and passes into the final third of the pitch.
It is this kind of technical ability that is currently lacking in Everton’s midfield. They are in desperate need of a man who can carry the ball forward and bring it into the opposition half; picking out passes to ensure the Blues forward line is not left as inconsequential as it was against West Ham.
For both him and Mina, the Nou Camp proved to be a step too far. Neither were able to show their best for the Catalan giants. The hope is that in a less pressurised environment like Goodison Park they can both flourish.
Defeat to the Hammers on Sunday has left everyone at Everton desperate for them to start sooner rather than later.