Why Gylfi Sigurdsson is back and as good as ever

Gylfi Sigurdsson has returned to form in 2018, but can fantasy managers really trust the Iceland international's bounce-back? AFP/Getty Images

Gylfi Sigurdsson is off to a fantastic start this season, which will surely come as a delight to Everton after his disappointing campaign last year.

Not only has the Icelandic talisman seemingly recovered from his poor four goal, four assist debut season, but he's started 2018-19 with a bang, posting career-high per 90 numbers in five of ESPN's scoring categories. This surge in form has now propelled him back to fantasy relevance as well with him currently ranked as a top 15 outfielder, and the third best in his tier (Tier 2 midfield).

Sigurdsson is not just besting his past self at the start of the 2018-19 season, he's also outperforming everyone in the league in both accurate crosses (18) and chances created (23). The latter is a rather big deal in the ESPN game as, not only do you get a point for each chance created, but each one also represents an opportunity for an assist.

Unfortunately for both he and those who select him, that last part has been a bit hard to come by this season with the midfielder having recorded just one assist to date. That's largely due to the fact that Sigurdsson is incapable of finishing his own created chances as, not only does he lead Everton in almost every creative category, but he also leads them in both goals (four) and shot accuracy (35.3 percent). While all of these statistics make Sigurdsson look an elite fantasy option, they certainly do not line up with his performances from last season.

In 2017-18 Sigurdsson struggled through what was arguably the worst season of his Premier League career, posting his lowest amount of goals, shots, shots on target, assists, chances created, accurate crosses, passes, and more, during the past five seasons. A lot of Sigurdsson's struggles last year could be laid at the feet of the now departed manager Sam Allardyce but, even still, how can we trust a breakout from Sigurdsson when he has been so poor so recently?

Well, admittedly it's rare for a player to have a breakout season at age 29 but, considering his past successes, this looks to be more of a renaissance if anything. It bears reminding that the Icelandic international was a bona fide fantasy star after rejoining Swansea, racking up an impressive 27 goals and 27 assists from 2014-2017. So, what made him so good over that period of time, and could those conditions be replicated at Everton this season?

The obvious link, the secret ingredient to Sigurdsson's success after moving back to Wales was that he ... played more. Seriously. When playing more than 2,500 minutes in a season, Sigurdsson averages around nine goals and nine assists with those averages dropping precipitously to four goals and two assists when he fails to meet that mark.

So, just by giving him enough playing time you can get solid production out of Sigurdsson. However, if you want to get the best out of him, he needs to play in his preferred central attacking role. Over that aforementioned three-year period, 74 percent of his goals were scored while playing as a traditional number 10.

With that in mind, last year's disappointing campaign, in which he was played out wide for the majority of the season, begins to look far less concerning and a lot more like an outlier. Has enough changed at Everton to ensure he doesn't struggle like that again though?

In a word? Yes.

Last season the Toffees bought five players capable of playing through the middle, which led to Sigurdsson's lowest amount of minutes played since 2013/14. Fortunately for him, just a year on, almost all of those players have since left the club either permanently (Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen) or on loan (Sandro Ramirez, Nikola Vlasic). With no direct competition for his role, the Icelandic midfielder has a clear pathway to significant minutes which has already been on display this season as he, at time of writing, has played a club-high 659 minutes.

As for playing in the right position, that looks to have been corrected as well via the hiring of manager Marco Silva.

The Portuguese manager has often utilized the 4-2-3-1 formation throughout his career and has done so in all eight Premier League matches to start 2018-19. This formation allows Sigurdsson to operate centrally as he prefers and unsurprisingly, that's exactly where he has played en route to this hot start.

Silva's tactics should help ensure Sigurdsson's continued success as well, considering the manager's pronounced focus on attack. Last season, his Watford side registered an impressive 37 goals in just 26 matches which was the seventh most in the league at the time of his departure. Now he's brought those high-powered tactics with him to Goodison Park which have already seen Everton post 13 goals, their highest tally at this stage since 2014-15, and it's Sigurdsson at the heart of it all.

So with the manager, playing time, and correct usage all seemingly lined up for Sigurdsson, how does all of this reflect on his fantasy value?

His chance creation, set-piece duties and, weirdly, interceptions, guarantee him a decent floor week-to-week. The ceiling, on the other hand, largely depends on goal scoring and assists, which currently account for a whopping 45 of his 99.5 points through eight weeks.

At his current rate, Sigurdsson is on pace for 19 goals and 5 assists which would not only represent the best season of his career, but would establish him as one of the fantasy elite. Again.

Beware fantasy players and opposing Premier League teams, the Iceman cometh.