This time last year Axel Witsel was being linked with a move to Juventus, as he pursued a new challenge following three years in Russia with Zenit Saint Petersburg.
That move failed to materialise, but the Belgian midfielder is a popular transfer target again this summer as he enters the final 12 months of his contract with the 2014/15 Russian champions.
At the front of that queue appear to be Everton, with reports circling that the two clubs have reached an agreement on a £25m fee for the 27-year-old.
The Toffees have been quiet in the transfer market so far this pre-season despite the additional wealth provided by new owner Farhad Moshiri, with the bulk of any activity relating to the possible sales of John Stones and Romelu Lukaku to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.
Everton are no longer in a “need-to-sell” position and for the first time in a while find themselves with the ability to retain their top players to make a serious assault on Champions League qualification. It is 11/1 that Ronald Koeman’s men finish in the top four this season.
Recruiting Witsel would be another positive towards achieving this feat and would represent an upgrade on Gareth Barry in the deepest midfield position.
Barry has been a wise addition to the squad, leading the way for successful passes, tackles and ball recoveries over the past two campaigns.
However, another function of this role is to be reliable in possession, beginning the phases between turning defence into attack.
Barry’s pass success rate in his first season was an average 84.6% and this dropped to 81.9% last term, despite more than half of his attempted passes being made inside his own half.
This was in comparison to the likes of Michael Carrick (86.5%), Nemanja Matic (88.1%), Fernando (89%) and Francis Coquelin (89.1%), who are asked to perform similar duties for their respective clubs.
During Euro 2016, Witsel ranked in the top 15 for completed passes at the tournament despite appearing in only five matches and did so at a success rate of 92.6%. Furthermore, 65% of these passes were achieved in the half of the opposition.
Having a more reliable distributor of possession in deeper areas will allow Everton better control of matches from which to dictate tempo.
In Barry’s two seasons since signing on permanently at Everton, the club dropped a combined 37 points from winning positions. Having him as back-up to Witsel could still be critical in improving their ability to close out games.