According to Goal.com, The Everton playmaker has bounced back in the last fortnight, silencing critics who mocked following non-appearances at the start of the season
Football fans’ overly reactionary nature never gets old. One minute everything is well and rosy and the very next moment, the sky may be falling…well, according to them.
Alex Iwobi, not for the first time in his career, has been on the receiving end of both sides of observers’ fickleness in the last month or thereabouts. After the signings of James Rodriguez — the Colombia playmaker, who’s raised the level at Everton exponentially — Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan in the summer, many immediately claimed the Nigerian would be sidelined by Carlo Ancelotti.
This prognosis seemed odd because: James predominantly operates in the hole, Doucoure as a box-to-box midfielder and the former Napoli man in a blue-collar role in the middle of the park. On first viewing, these signings weren’t direct competitors for Iwobi’s place in the side, so where were the Chicken Little opinions originating from?
Regardless, these alarmists seemed overjoyed when the Nigerian was left out completely in the Toffees’ hugely impressive 1-0 success over Tottenham Hotspur in gameweek one. The knives were already out, so, unsurprisingly, they twisted it pre and post-match, making the West African the butt of their jokes.
When the former Arsenal man was then left out of Everton’s EFL Cup clash at Salford City three days later, with 19-year-old Anthony Gordon preferred in the XI, the handwriting looked to be on the wall.
🚨 𝐏𝐨𝐝𝐜𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐀𝐥𝐞𝐫𝐭 🎧🎙️
Do Alex Iwobi and Wilfried Zaha have points to prove in the Premier League this season? 🤔👇
— Goal South Africa (@GoalcomSA) September 12, 2020
Despite the omissions from the squad, there was always a feeling that Iwobi was good enough to play in Ancelotti’s side, albeit intermittently. Being left out was strange, largely due to the fact the 24-year-old featured heavily at the backend of last season, having recovered from an injury that saw him lose ground in trying to impress Marco Silva’s replacement.
The schadenfreude that accompanied the Nigeria star’s initial lack of game time seem to have been overreactions, evidenced by the swift change in fortunes since an encouraging cup showing at Fleetwood Town on September 23.
Iwobi’s pair of goal contributions stood out — particularly the back-heeled assist for Richarlison’s second of the night — but his low-key involvement in two of Everton’s other three goals in that 5-2 success didn’t get mentioned.
Having had to bide his time in the Premier League — first being out of the side totally and then making do with cameos here and there — an injury to Richarlison in the 25th minute in Saturday’s entertaining 4-2 success over Brighton & Hove Albion presented the ex-Arsenal man with an opportunity to feature for an hour.
It’s safe to say that he took his chance, assisting Rodriguez’s first of the afternoon and playing in Doucoure brilliantly in the build-up to the South American’s second. The Nigerian was involved in two goal-creating actions, tied with James, and as many shot-creating actions, only the former Real Madrid and Watford stars had more.
With two passes into the penalty area, Iwobi was joint-highest on the Everton side — level with Tom Davies and Lucas Digne, despite playing 66 minutes to the pair’s 90 — while he sat joint-fourth having attempted three progressive passes at Goodison Park — the three players with a higher volume except for James (77) played the entirety of the encounter.
For those interested in raw numbers, Iwobi’s assist at the weekend was his first in the Premier League since moving to Merseyside. He’s now equalled his meagre goal contribution of one from 19/20 and, barring injury or a lack of games should outdo last term’s league return.
Even though — for the umpteenth time — the playmaker will probably never rack up goals and assists, the paucity of last year’s return was striking and disappointing.
If the recent performances are anything to go by, it only confirms what was already known. Iwobi might never be a key star in a side, a la James, neither is he likely to raise the level of a team and lead them to titles…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
He’ll not get tonnes of goal contributions as what he does is more subtle. In 19/20 the Nigerian ranked third for in-play passes leading to shots in the Everton side and was sixth for shot-creating actions per 90.
Furthermore, the attacking midfielder was sixth for volume of progressive passes played, the only wideman or attacking midfielder in that top bracket, and played the second-highest passes into the penalty area. Also, the fact that he ranked fourth for total key passes played, too, indicated some promise going into his second season.
Given the injection of quality into the Toffees this season, Iwobi’s likely to thrive especially alongside someone of James’ presence and ability. After a topsy-turvy maiden campaign at the blue half of Merseyside, the West African star certainly has a role to play in this Everton side, even though appearances could be in fits and starts.
It’s a scenario detractors of the Nigerian probably never imagined when they went extreme on the wisecracks after the initial non-appearance at the start of the season. Following the reinstatement of the former Arsenal prodigy, it’s largely gone quiet from the fault-finders in the last few days.
Hello naysayers, the deafening silence since Saturday has been convenient, if not laughable!