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Everton English Premier League Season Preview: Fullbacks

Lack of leftback depth a genuine concern

Everton v MFK Ruzomberok - UEFA Europa League Third Qualifying Round: First Leg Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Stats

Everton Fullbacks

Player Appearances Tackles per game Inter. per game Crosses per game Assists
Player Appearances Tackles per game Inter. per game Crosses per game Assists
Baines 32 2 1.4 1 3
Coleman 26 2.1 1.1 0.7 3
Martina 6(3) 1.2 1.7 1 0
Kenny* 21 N/A N/A N/A 4
Holgate 16(2) 2.3 2.3 0.3 1
Garbutt** 7(1) 2.1 1 1.4 1
*Denotes stats from PL2
**Denotes stats from EFL Championship

Tactics

When healthy, Everton have one of the best fullback duos in Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. So it stands to reason that Ronald Koeman has made his fullbacks a key piece of his attacking plan.

Whether deployed as wing backs in a 5-3-2 or traditional fullbacks in the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3, Baines and especially Coleman have been allowed to charge forward and overload their respective flanks. However, when Coleman is out of the line-up, Everton struggled to get much of any offensive production out of Mason Holgate.

If Everton’s two Europa League qualifying matches are any indicator, it appears Koeman will continue to rotate between the 5-3-2 and 4-3-3 depending on how the opponent lines up. Given Everton’s mixed crop of wingers, the fullbacks will likely be called on again to provide crucial width to the side.

Current Players

Leighton Baines

As the only left back on the senior roster, Leighton Baines’ performance and health is critical for Everton this season. Despite a decline in several important statistical categories, Baines remains a key player for Everton and one of the better left backs in the Premier League.

Statistically, Baines has begun to trend downard over the past few season. Despite this trend, Baines has remained a reliable presence at the left back position. You can always count on him for accurate crosses, composure on the ball, dangerous set pieces and a solid effort in the defensive third.

While mostly known for his offensive exploits, Baines was one of Everton’s better defenders last season. Among defenders who played more than 10 games, Baines was in the top five in tackles and top three in interceptions.

Unlike many players in entering the latter stages of their career, Baines appears to know his limitations and will rarely put himself and his team in a compromising position.

Seamus Coleman

Arguably one of Everton’s most important players, Seamus Coleman had his season cut short before it even began. Having suffered a broken leg at the hands of Neil Taylor during a World Cup qualifier, Coleman is not expected to feature for Everton until early 2018 at the soonest.

Were he healthy, Coleman would have continued to be the attacking dynamo he had been over the last few season for Everton. There would be conversation about how he would likely continue to thrive as a wing back in Koeman’s 3-5-2 and how he would be in the conversation to be Everton’s captain on a weekly basis.

Should Coleman return during this campaign, it remains to be seen if he can reach full fitness and form before the season is over. Anything is possible, but with an injury as serious as this, we may not see peak Seamus Coleman until next year.

Cuco Martina

Under ideal circumstances, Cuco Martina would have been nothing more than some much needed depth at the right back position. Someone to spell Coleman and most importantly, save us all from seeing Mason Holgate play right back. But as things currently stand, Martina could be playing some significant minutes at right back for Everton.

From what has been seen of Martina thus far, he looks like a decent player, but but also one who will be prone to some bone-headed mistakes. While he may not havethe attacking prowess of Seamus Coleman, he does offer a versatility on the back line that Koeman seems to value. Despite being primarily a right back, Martina can slot in at center back if needed. Add in Martina’s knowledge of Koeman and his tactics from their time together at Southampton and you’ve got a player that needs very little time to acclimate to his new surroundings.

Everton v Liverpool: Premier League 2
Jonjoe Kenny, the Under-23 captain
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Jonjoe Kenny

As Everton U-23 captain, Youth Player of the 2016-17 Season, and U-20 World Cup champion, Jonjoe Kenny has a fairly impressive resume for a 20-year-old. Despite these accomplishments and a continued youth movement at Everton, Koeman seems unwilling to give much of a chance in the first team.

Granted, we have only seen two games that actually count from Everton so far, but the addition of Tom Davies at right wing back against Ruzomberok left many wondering why Kenny, a natural right back, was left off the team sheet in favor of a central midfielder. Despite these early snubs, I suspect we will be seeing Kenny with the senior team soon enough.

Mason Holgate

Holgate is undoubtedly one of Everton’s most promising and talented defensive prospects. But when played at right back, albeit out of necessity, he ceases to be a difference maker for Everton.

While Holgate is very solid defensively but offers close to nothing going forward. When deployed as a right back his inability to dribble and cross with any consistency meant that the right side was largely cut off in the offensive third. When played as a outside centerback in the 3-5-2 or a traditional centerback in the 4-3-3, I am a huge fan of his. But his play as a full back brings back too many bad memories of John Stones in the same position.

Luke Garbutt

Despite having no squad number for Everton, Luke Garbutt has been included in this list because he is literally the only other left back in Everton’s system with any first team experience.

Once seen as a future star under Roberto Martinez, Garbutt has twice been loaned out to Championship sides with no sign of playing any significant role with Everton. Garbutt did recently play with the U-23 side in a testimonial against Welsh Premier League side Bangor City and even netted a penalty for David Unsworth’s side.

However, it is likely that Garbutt will be shipped off again once Koeman brings in some much needed cover at left back.

State of the Position

Simply put, the state of the position is mixed. At full strength, Everton have one of the best fullback duos in the Premier League. Unfortunately, those positions are rarely at full strength these days. Depth continues to be an issue for either left or right back. As Everton have shored up the right side, they have let the left become an area of concern.

I will say that the future crop of full backs is an area of strength for the team. Between Jonjoe Kenny, Antonee Robinson and many more up and coming youngsters Everton have set themselves up for success in the future.