On a team short on true out-and-out wide players, Aaron Lennon stands out as nearly the only natural winger at Everton. With Gerard Deulofeu on loan, the Englishman might have been the only attacker at Goodison Park after January who actually prefers to play out wide.
A variety of factors prevented Lennon from being able to fill an obvious hole this season, and his return to the club faces substantial uncertainty.
Lennon’s pure pace remains his greatest asset. In attack, his speed impacts the way opposing defenses approach Everton. The 30-year-old adopts wide starting positions and is always a threat to sneak in behind opposing defenses, keeping his opposite full-back honest and creating space in the center of the pitch.
In defense, Lennon uses his pace to get back and cover for his own full-backs when they get forward. His work rate is incredibly high and he’s a willing defender, making him an ideal winger when the Toffees play high-quality opponents. It should come as no surprise that two of Lennon’s six starts this season came against Arsenal and Liverpool in December.
The English winger isn’t the most technically gifted player. His passing, shooting, crossing, and dribbling are all acceptable for a depth player at a club like Everton, but he’s not gifted enough in those areas to be a regular starter, particularly as the club continues to grow.
In 13 appearances in all competitions this season, Lennon picked up one goal (against Yeovil Town in the EFL Cup) and an assist (in a seven-minute substitute appearance in a 3-2 loss to Watford). His pass completion percentage was 80.6 percent, and he completed around one key pass per 90 minutes.
Lennon is at his best when employed in an off-wing role — that is, when his team focuses its attack through the wing opposite Lennon. The Englishman’s off-ball movement is excellent, and his speed keeps opponents guessing, while his on-ball skills can be lacking at times — so this role clearly makes the most sense.
However, Lennon lined up most frequently on the right this season, in front of Seamus Coleman. Because Ronald Koeman and Everton look to play through the Irish full-back so frequently, Lennon often found himself the focal point of the attack as well, and struggled with that pressure.
Lennon might have fit nicely into the left-wing role when Ross Barkley played ahead of Coleman on the right wing, but he never got a chance to do so.
Injuries kept Lennon sidelined for most of 2017, but as he neared a return from physical injury, mental illness became a new obstacle. On May 2, Lennon was detained by police under the Mental Health Act after a 20-minute discussion with authorities while standing by a busy road.
The club reported that Lennon was receiving treatment for a “stress-related illness,” and little has been made known about the player’s condition since the incident.
Even before the incident related to his stress-related illness, Lennon’s future with the club was potentially a little unclear. Koeman didn’t utilize the English winger much in the admittedly limited time he was healthy — and Lennon was injured for so much of the season, it’s hard to get a good grip on exactly what Koeman thinks of the player.
Of course, Lennon plays at a position of obvious need for the Toffees. Gerard Deulofeu may be back next season, but Enner Valencia will not be, and the club has been linked with very few wingers in the transfer market. Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both showed well in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and can play out wide, but experienced players will be needed as well, particularly in the Europa League campaign.
All of this is absolutely secondary to Lennon’s mental health though. Before any serious considerations can be made about his footballing future, the most important thing is for Aaron Lennon to receive the treatment he needs to have his life on the right track, with or without the game.
Get well soon, Aaron.
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