The summer-long Icelandic saga is over, and the shoe has finally dropped: Gylfi Sigurdsson now wears an Everton shirt. Siggy and Everton will be delighted to get what each so desperately wanted, and the blow to Swansea will be cushioned by a £45M payday. [Editor’s Note: 10% goes to Spurs as “sell-on” fee.] But what will this fantasy stud’s move mean for fantasy managers?
First, the damage to Swansea will be hard to repair. Far and away their best player, Sigurdsson swept the awards at Swansea’s end-of-season banquet and seemed embarrassed at how many times he had come to the podium to accept an honor. But there was no reason for embarrassment. No other player in the Premier League was as singularly responsible for carrying his team’s fortunes on his back. He was Swansea’s main creative force and string-puller, had set-piece responsibility for virtually all dead-balls including penalties, and was the only Swansea player who could legitimately be included in a conversation about world-class Premier League footballers. In short, nearly everything Swansea did went through Siggy.
It is exceedingly unlikely that a team as weak as the Swans will be able to interest another player of Sigurdsson’s quality. Instead, the cash will probably be spent on second or third-tier players hoping to find new life at a struggling team. Manchester City’s Wilfred Bony and West Bromwich Albion’s Nacer Chadli have already been mentioned as possible targets. It is impossible to imagine either man having influence on Swansea equal to Siggy’s. In fact, it’s unlikely that both together can make up for his loss. And unless they do show signs of prosperity under Paul Clement, neither player would be of any immediate fantasy interest. Bottom line: Without Siggy, I see a Swansea team in very serious jeopardy of relegation. Heck, they almost failed to make the cut last year when they had him.
Any team would welcome the addition of a player like Sigurdsson, and Everton will certainly celebrate the arrival of the transfer target that they pursued all summer. But when one considers Everton’s other new signings, Siggy’s impact on the squad becomes a little hard to project, both in real life and in fantasy. Wayne Rooney left Manchester United to return to his boyhood club and was rapturously received by his old fans. He thanked them by heading in the game winner in the closing moments of the first half, and then put on a masterful second-half performance in which he commanded the Toffee offense from a deeper central position. But though he remains a tireless workhorse, Rooney no longer has the explosive pace to play wide, and so it seems unlikely that Siggy would displace him to the wing. And benching Rooney in favor of Siggy is something I simply can’t see happening after Rooney’s performance and fan reaction.
Therefore, we must assume that Sigurdsson will share the center of the park with Rooney in some fashion. Against Stoke, Everton manager Ronald Koeman started with a back three plus Leighton Baines playing left wingback and forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin playing out of position as a right wingback. Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney supported striker Sandro Ramirez. Everton was poor in the first half, despite a fine performance from Calvert-Lewin who delivered the cross that Rooney headed past Jack Butland to notch the game-winner.
In the second half Koeman switched to a flat back four, shifting Calvert-Lewin to his favored role as striker, dropping Rooney back, and subbing out Ramirez and Klaassen for Tom Davies and Kevin Mirallas. This tactical change energized the attack, and Rooney in particular sparkled in his deeper position. Tom Davies also impressed, but Ramirez, Klaassen, and Mirallas did themselves no favors, with Ramirez’s performance perhaps the most disappointing. With Siggy set to line up in midfield with Rooney, the knock-on effects could move either Klaassen or Davies to right wingback and shift Calvert-Lewis up to his more comfortable role as striker, displacing Ramirez, who looks like he needs more time to adjust to Premier League football.
But Koeman is known to employ various shapes, so players like Klaassen and Calvert-Lewis could also be at risk depending on how the Dutch gaffer arranges his lineup. And things could get even more complicated if Koeman brings in a classic target-man No. 9 before the transfer window closes, as he has said he wants to do. Finally, European competition will insert rotation into the equation.
What does seem clear is that with Jordan Pickford between the sticks and protected by a very solid back line, Everton already have a degree of defensive stability that many of the elite clubs currently lack. Consequently, the addition of first Rooney and now Sigurdsson as creative forces in the midfield could be the catalyst that transforms Everton from dark horse to odds-on Champions League contenders. That is certainly every real-life Toffee fan’s hope. But what are the fantasy implications for fantasy managers?
In short, I believe Siggy’s fantasy prospects will go down, while the stock of those around him will generally go up. At Swansea, Siggy was the orchestra conductor, pulling all the strings, directing all the movements, and taking all the set-pieces. Indeed, this is what made him a fantasy darling despite the fact that he played for a lousy team. While he will surely continue to be in the center of the action at Goodison Park, he will now have to share responsibility (and the spoils) for all the aspects of the game that he used to monopolize. That will include dead-ball duties, since Rooney, Baines, and Mirallas are all established set-piece takers. Now that he will have to split the pie he once had all to himself, his fantasy performances at Everton are unlikely to match his production at Swansea. But as his fantasy returns fall so will his price, and at some point he will represent value for money when the match up is right. But at Everton he will probably not be the fixture-proof, set-and-forget fantasy asset he once was.
That said, Everton will soon have in their engine room a creative talent the likes of which they have not seen in years. That includes the now sure-to-be-transferred Ross Barkley, who failed to transform into the kind of player that he hinted he might become. Even with the loss of Lukaku, Sigurdsson’s wizardry should result in a sharper Everton attack and more Everton goals—the forwards will enjoy improved connection with the midfield, and the strikers will enjoy service superior to anything Lukaku ever saw. Everton’s entire cast of attackers should benefit from that, and so should their fantasy production. The one caveat is set-pieces: if Siggy is assigned penalty kicks and/or a disproportionate share of dead-ball duties, then the prospects for Rooney and Baines could be dented somewhat. Of note, another to benefit from Siggy’s purchase is Pickford; the arrival of the Icelandic playmaker could mean more win points for Everton’s excellent new shot-stopper.
Sigurdsson missed the entire preseason for Swansea, so he is sorely short of match fitness and will not be ready to slot directly into Everton’s lineup this weekend. But he has been the object of Koeman’s desires for years, going back as far as Koeman’s days at Southampton. Now that the Dutchman has spent £45M to land his man, the club will hope that Siggy will finally be the puzzle-piece that elevates Everton into the Champions League. Will that piece fit into your fantasy squad puzzle? Tell us in the comments below!