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Midfield Musings: Milan or Merseyside for Witsel?

‘Pogba-mania’ aside, the saga of Zenit St Petersburg’s dynamic midfielder Axel Witsel has been one of the hottest stories of a typically tepid British summer. Although many links have been made and quickly dashed, Inter Milan and Everton have emerged as the most prominent contenders to sign Witsel in recent weeks.


Former Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel was on the scoresheet at Euro 2016, but he is not the man for Milan. For the latest football odds, visit Betfair (Betfair Casino).

As recently as mid-July, the Nerazzuri were firmly in pole position to sign Witsel, but more recent reports of a £25m bid being accepted from Everton have swung the pendulum of guesswork back in Ronald Koeman’s favour.

However, some Evertonians see signing a Euro 2016 failure from a Russian club for such a price as a huge risk. This due in no small part to the gulf in standards between each country’s respective Premier Leagues, and the fact that recent signings from Russia have flopped immensely upon arriving at Goodison Park.

With key midfield statistics from the 2015/16 league campaigns for both clubs taken into account, there is much room for contention from a statistical point of view.


  • Goals From Midfield: 16 / 45
  • Pass Accuracy: 83%
  • Total Possession: 52%

In terms of goalscoring, Witsel’s return of goals-per-game from midfield is modest when one considers the comparatively poor calibre of the opposition he faces every week with Zenit. This rate also translates to international level, where there is much variation in the quality of opposition, and he has not delivered in that respect when faced with the very top teams.

The man he would replace at Inter Milan is 34-year old veteran attacker Rodrigo Palacio, who suffered at times in the advanced role, as evidenced by his meager return of just two goals from 27 appearances last season. When Icardi was alone up front, the alternate option was Stevan Jovetic, though his role was typically much more fluid – hence the superior goals-per-game rate.

Despite finishing fourth, Inter Milan’s goal difference of 2015/16 paled embarrassingly next to the top three of Juventus, Napoli and Roma. Ultimately, Inter Milan’s efficient possession and good passing ability meant little in terms of re-establishing the club as a European giant.

Renowned mainly for his all-round skills, Witsel’s signing would merely represent a continuation of this trend if he was deployed in the advanced role. If Roberto Mancini does indeed wish to add more firepower to the midfield, rather than a good tackler and passer in the deep, then an alternative should certainly be considered.


  • Goals From Midfield: 14 / 59
  • Pass Accuracy: 82%
  • Total Possession: 51%

Everton’s nosedive in form during the spring of 2015/16 precipitated the long-overdue departure of Roberto Martinez, making way for what appears to be a promising era for the club. In addition to a tactically-astute manager in Ronald Koeman, Everton now also have the financial backing of Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri, whose resources are the sole reason that Witsel was ever linked to Goodison Park in the first place.

Last season, Everton finished 11th with 47 points for the second year in succession, though like fellow underachievers Inter Milan, it was not for want of technical prowess. With a passing success rate in excess of 80%, it is likely that Witsel would have adapted well to Martinez’ possession-centric game, but an entirely different setup is expected from Koeman.

In 2015/16, Everton were far more reliant on goals from Romelu Lukaku, than their Milanese counterparts were on Mauricio Icardi to provide the firepower. This is the statistic which establishes Everton as the wiser move as far as Witsel is concerned.

With Everton midfielder Gareth Barry now well past his prime, Witsel would be deployed in a deeper (and more suitable) role, as an interesting foil to a ‘battling’ midfield partner in James McCarthy. Meanwhile, in the “No. 10” role, Ross Barkley weighed in with eight goals last season – the same number produced by Rodrigo Palacio and Jovetic combined.

It is here that the changes would be most telling. With two natural tacklers in support, Barkley would have greater license to play to his strengths as a roaming support striker rather than an advanced midfielder.


Of the two clubs, it is Everton that is in greater need a visionary midfielder at the peak of his powers.

Taking the pressure of Barkley and Lukaku will vastly increase Everton’s chances of retaining them this summer after numerous links, and many on Merseyside argue that they are the two players that Everton must keep if they are to re-enter the Champions League in the near future.

Written By Tamhas Woods 

Tamhas Woods
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