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John Stones and Phil Jagielka look to steady Everton defense

A key part of Everton's spine remains largely dependent on the John Stones transfer saga.

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The big question for Everton's central defence is whether or not John Stones will be in an Everton shirt when the season kicks off. His departure would seriously change the team's outlook for the upcoming campaign.

Departures:

After six seasons in an Everton shirt, veteran centre back Sylvain Distin has moved south on a free transfer to provide a veteran presence on Bournemouth's back line. The 37-year-old is no stranger to England's south coast, having captained Portsmouth to an FA Cup win in 2008. Distin was an able soldier for Everton for most of his tenure at Goodison Park, but his age caught up with him last season and it is no surprise, nor should it hurt the squad that the well-sized centre back is moving on. Distin made 210 appearances (174 in the league) in an Everton shirt and holds the record for the most appearances for a foreign-born outfield player in the Premier League. Distin's fellow backup centre back, Antolin Alcaraz, has also left Everton after being released by the club. Roberto Martinez brought Alcaraz over from Wigan, where he coached the Paraguayan international, when he took over for David Moyes. Alcaraz's Everton career never really got off the mark in 21 total appearances.

Arrivals

Martinez has gone public in acknowledging Everton's need for reinforcements at centre half but with time ticking towards opening day, it doesn't seem as if the club are close to bringing in a body. The team was briefly linked with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, but his agent has since shut that rumour down. For a time it seemed inevitable that Manchester United's Johnny Evans would end up as a Blue this summer, but things there have seemed to quiet down. Evans wouldn't be a terrible addition to the squad in a supporting role, but asking him to feature as one of the club's two starting central defenders would not end well.

Returning Players

Jagielka and Stones (for now) are the club's only two true centre halves. Gareth Barry and Mohammed Besic can also play the position, but it can't be stressed enough how important it is for the club to bring in a player or two to provide some depth behind their two starting centre backs. Last year saw the team come undone a number of times when Stones was sidelined and the team was forced to throw Distin and/or Alcaraz out for 90 minutes.

Tactics

Keep John Stones.

But in all honesty Roberto Martinez likes to play from the back. He asks both his center backs to distribute the ball properly, something that John Stones is particularly talented at. Last year the poor performance of both center backs, along with injury woes, was one of the main reasons Everton struggled all season. If Stones and Jagielka can return to form Everton should look much better.

Because of Martinez's desire for his fullbacks to get forward, both center backs have to be strong when covering for their teammates. Expect to see Stones and Jagielka sprinting to the corner flags when opposing teams try to counter attack quickly. Both players have the ability to track back, but once again the key will come from the defensive midfield in providing cover as the center backs are out of position.

Summary

The outlook for next season could ultimately rest on the board's decision on whether or not to give in to the money that Chelsea or Manchester United throw at them for Stones. Roberto Martinez is holding fast to his claim that Stones will not be sold, but one would have to be quite naive to believe that Stones won't be sold if the offers continue to climb. Even with Stones, Everton are currently one injury away from a disaster in the middle of their back line.