Alex Iwobi's season review: Why did Everton teammates vote him POTY?

Alex Iwobi hleped Everton survive relegation in the 2022-23 season

ANALYSIS Alex Iwobi's season review: Why did Everton teammates vote him POTY?

Seye Omidiora 18:55 - 07.06.2023

Aside from his versatility, Iwobi's availability and consistency underscored an outstanding season.

Apart from on-field success, nothing is more pleasing than being voted Player of the Year. Perhaps one: being voted Player of the Year by your teammates.

That honour was bestowed upon Alex Iwobi after Everton’s 2022-23 Premier League season wrapped up. While some observers prefer fans to have their say, supporters are not privy to what happens after every round of games — well, not everything.

However, teammates get the complete picture. They witness training and recognise first-rate in-game performances. That is why Iwobi’s award is a big deal.

The case for Pickford

Some critics will lean towards Jordan Pickford, the Everton goalkeeper who made significant saves in the run-in.

At 2-1 down against Leicester City, Pickford saved a James Maddison penalty in gameweek 34 before Iwobi levelled in the 2-2 draw at the King Power Stadium. 

The England international made four stops in the 5-1 thrashing of Brighton & Hove Albion in the following round of matches, and he denied Matheus Nunes at Molineux in the season’s penultimate round of games.

Jordan Pickford made several crucial saves in Everton's 2022-23 relegation scrap

The Toffees were 1-0 down in the latter when Pickford denied the Portuguese midfielder in the second minute of second-half stoppage time. Seven minutes later, Yerry Mina was scoring a late equaliser. Fine margins.

Analytics show that Pickford prevented three goals in 22-23 based on the quality of shots faced. This outranked all but five goalkeepers in the campaign’s entirety. Four if you exclude Manchester City reserve goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, who played so little throughout the campaign.

Considering per 90 metrics, the Everton goalkeeper unsurprisingly rises to fifth in the league, emphasising the late-season upswing and decent-to-good shot-stopping as the Merseyside club avoided relegation.

Jordan Pickford's goal prevention aided Everton's Premier League survival (FBref)

However, Iwobi was the team’s most reliable performer.

Iwobi’s durability

For the first time since turning pro, the Nigerian played 38 Premier League games, starting each one. 

The Super Eagle was in good company by being one of 21 players in the entire division to feature in every game. Narrow that down to starts, and the former Arsenal man was one of only nine players to play from the off over 38 rounds.

Vis-à-vis other Premier League players, Alex Iwobi's availability was an asset to Everton (FBref)

Iwobi did not play every minute, featuring for 3378 of 3420 minutes, 42 shy of joining a four-player group that included Everton teammate James Tarkowski for playing every minute of Premier League football in the just-concluded season.

Unsurprisingly, 3378 minutes eclipses previous seasons for the 26-year-old. He never crossed the 2000 mark in North London, only just clocking 2035 last season, a figure influenced by Frank Lampard.

Alex Iwobi got more game time in 2022-23 than in previous seasons in the Premier League (FBref)

Iwobi’s consistent performances

Frankly, the Chelsea legend is below standard in the dugout, evidenced by his glaring shortcomings as a manager. 

However, one of the few things he got right on Merseyside was trusting in Iwobi and building the Nigerian’s confidence back up.

The Super Eagle was peripheral under Lampard’s predecessor Rafael Benitez, but the 26-year-old became one of the totems of the Englishman’s blue-collar approach as Everton battled for their top-flight status last season.

Iwobi started and completed Everton’s final 12 Premier League matches following a late winning strike in a 1-0 win over Newcastle United in March 2022. He never looked back.

The Everton man made a storming start to the 2022-23 campaign, involved in six goals (one goal and five assists) in the season’s opening 12 rounds.

That was undoubtedly unsustainable, so it proved, but the Nigerian’s contribution was not limited to raw numbers alone.

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How Iwobi dominated Everton’s attacking metrics

Only Dwight McNeil (10) was involved in more goals than Iwobi (nine), although the Nigerian played significantly more games than the wide midfielder.

Seven assists outdid the former Burnley star’s three, although the Super Eagle’s Expected Assists (xA) vis-à-vis McNeil’s — 4.3-5.4 — showed that Iwobi’s eventual tally was not a fair reflection of his creativity.

Only the wide midfielder outdid the ever-present midfielder for key passes per 90 (1.76-1.71), while Idrissa Gueye found more teammates in the final third than the Nigeria international — 3.88-3.57 per 90. However, the 26-year-old found more teammates in the penalty area (1.68 per 90) throughout the season.

Alex Iwobi was at the forefront of Everton's play in possession (FBref)

An underrated feature of Iwobi’s game is the inclination to carry his side upfield through progressive passing or aggressive ball-carrying.

This was evident in the numbers, with the data certifying the eye test. Iwobi’s 5.17 progressive passes per 90 significantly outdid the team’s next-best, Gueye (3.17), with Tom Davies and James Garner not playing near enough minutes to justify their high average.

Only Demarai Gray (3.37) and McNeil (2.73) outdid the Nigerian’s progressive carries per 90 (2.40), although the Super Eagle ranked second behind the erstwhile Leicester City attacker for volume — 94-90. Gray just about beat Iwobi for final-third carries — 2.22-2.11.

Iwobi never shied away from carrying the ball into advanced areas on the pitch.

For involvements leading to shots and goals, Iwobi had his fingerprints all over it. The Nigerian outdid his Everton teammates for volume of shot-creating actions (120) and fell behind McNeil for total goal-creating actions (12-9), but both metrics require a comprehensive breakdown.

While Gray and McNeil (3.89 and 3.37, respectively) outranked the Nigerian (3.20 per 90), the Nigerian beat both men for open-play passes preceding shots in volume (91) and average (2.43). Abdoulaye Doucoure (2.24 open-play passes per 90) was the closest member of the Everton side for passes leading to shot attempts.

Iwobi was third behind McNeil and Dominic Calvert-Lewin for goal-creating actions per 90 (0.43 and 0.31, respectively), but the Nigerian’s involvement from open play outdid the squad in volume and the average — eight live-ball passes preceding goals (0.21 per 90).

The Nigerian greatly contributed to Everton's final-third actions (FBref)

How about without the ball? Only Gueye made more recoveries than Iwobi (266-259), and the Nigerian ranked second below the Senegalese midfielder for mean loose balls recovered.

He ranked third behind Amadou Onana and Gueye for tackles in the middle third (42, 35 and 28), placed sixth for tackles plus interceptions and blocked a joint-high 39 passes from reaching their intended target.

Everton's Alex Iwobi
Iwobi was not against getting stuck in when necessary.

Playing multiple positions under different managers, Iwobi was an asset to Everton, demonstrating his value with and without possession for the Toffees’ survival tussle.

With one year left on his current deal, a renewal could be in the offing, even if the versatile midfielder may feel he deserves more than Everton’s annual relegation scraps.

If Iwobi is to stay at Goodison Park for another year, the club’s fervent support would be beneficiaries of the Nigerian’s continued committed performances.