With center-back Victor Lindelof headed to Manchester United, a shake-up is underway at the heart of the Red Devils’ back-line. The upshot for Everton? It looks like Chris Smalling will be allowed to leave Manchester in search of playing time.
The Independent is reporting that Smalling will be allowed by Jose Mourinho to move to a new club this summer, though Mourinho has not yet explicitly told the player in those terms. The 27-year-old has two years remaining on his contract and earns nearly £100,000 per week.
The Independent’s report also claims that Everton, Newcastle United, and West Ham United are the top three teams vying for Smalling’s signature — a group which one would assume the Toffees are at the head of. Newcastle and West Ham both seem less likely to add Smalling’s salary to their wage bill, with Everton seemingly willing to splash money left and right based on the events of the last week.
More significantly, Everton appears to be the best of those three teams, with the Toffees’ seventh-place finish last season and Europa League participation this season putting them at a substantial advantage in the pursuit of the Englishman’s signature.
In theory, the only potential stumbling block facing Everton is playing time for the Manchester United center-back. Smalling would surely go directly into the first XI at both West Ham and Newcastle, but that might not be assured at Goodison Park.
The Toffees are rumored to still be actively pursuing Burnley’s Michael Keane, with interest evidently also shown in Inter Milan’s Jeison Murillo. Smalling probably would fall below Keane, but above Murillo or any additional center-back signing on Everton’s depth chart, leaving a few lingering questions.
First, would Smalling supplant Ashley Williams alongside Keane in the first XI? The Welshman was nearly an ever-present for Everton last season, and Ronald Koeman may want to leave Williams in the lineup to create some sense of continuity among players who remain in the side from last season. If Smalling was second-choice to Williams, he likely wouldn’t be an everyday player — denting his interest in moving to Merseyside.
That is, if Everton isn’t mulling a move to a back-three. Center-back rumors continue to fly fast and furious, and the club already has Phil Jagielka, Ramiro Funes Mori, Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington, and Brendan Galloway in the center of defense as well — so a tactical switch might make a lot of sense for Koeman and co.
If a move to a back-three is forthcoming, then there would be little doubt Smalling would making the first XI — even if he falls behind Williams and Keane in the depth chart.
Either way, the path to signing the player appears to be wide open now that United will allow an exit — if Koeman and Everton are keen on Chris Smalling, they ought to strike while the iron is hot.