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Mason Holgate isn’t yet good enough for Everton

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The Derby fiasco was yet another strike against the defender

Liverpool v Everton - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
You know what is about to happen in this picture.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my post-match work tends to involve the tactical and the analytical. I really enjoy digging into the details of an Everton match and drawing attention to important problems or solutions that some may not have noticed while watching the match live.

Well, dear reader, I’d love to do that for you this week, but I can’t.

Because Mason Holgate ruined yet another match, and I’m freaking tired of it.

Let’s review Mason Holgate’s 2018 thus far:

  • Loses Anthony Martial on Manchester United’s first goal on January 1.
  • Lazily throws the ball in to an opponent, then fails to win the ball back in the aftermath, allowing Jesse Lingard to score Manchester United’s second goal.
  • Wastes countless chances in attack down the right wing against Manchester United, from where the Toffees had the best chance to generate chances.
  • Concedes a needless penalty against Liverpool to Adam Lallana.
  • Pushes Roberto Firmino into the stands after the ball has already gone out of play, which could have easily seen him receive at least a yellow card.
  • Loses his mark, Virgil Van Dijk, multiple times on corner kicks. The Dutch center-back missed his first big chance to score, but slotted one home on his second attempt, winning the match for Liverpool and knocking Everton out of the FA Cup.

Just another five days in the life of Mason Holgate, who somehow is still a Premier League defender.

Now, before I move forward, I do want to say a few things in Holgate’s defense.

  1. I recognize that Holgate only turned 21 in October, and still has time to improve and develop. I haven’t seen anything from the defender to indicate that he’s got a much higher ceiling than what we see now, but it certainly is possible.
  2. The abuse that Holgate received on social media is completely unacceptable. If you want to rip into a player on social media over his footballing abilities, go for it. But please, don’t take the player in your hot take — these guys are human beings with emotions too. And of course, any kind of racially charged or homophobic remarks have no place anywhere.
  3. I will happily criticize Mason Holgate for pushing Firmino into the stands in Friday’s match. I will also definitively give him a pass for his behavior thereafter, under the assumption that he, at the very least, genuinely believed that Firmino said something racist or otherwise grotesquely inappropriate to him. If someone said something to me as inappropriate as what has been suggesting Firmino said, I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged on my reaction — and I won’t subject Holgate to that judgment either.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s get back to why Mason Holgate simply shouldn’t be playing for Everton.

Holgate has been used both as a right-back and center-back at Everton, but he’s not a Premier League level player at either position. Let’s start with the issues of playing him at right-back, which are much easier to define concretely.

In fact, I talked about the issues with Holgate playing right-back in my analysis of Monday’s Manchester United match — here’s an excerpt from that piece:

Here’s a few fun facts about Mason Holgate in the attack:

— He has one assist in 33 matches across the Premier League and Europa League.

— He has completed 67.1% of his passes in Premier League play this season, the worst of any non-forward or goalkeeper Everton player.

— According to WhoScored.com, he has completed only 9 of the 59 crosses he has attempted in his career, a 15.25% completion percentage. By comparison, Jonjoe Kenny has completed 11 of his 34 crosses in his career, a 32.35% completion percentage.

The way that Everton plays requires its full-backs to contribute to the attack, and Holgate simply isn’t that guy. To really drive home this point, let’s compare Mason Holgate to another right-back we generally consider as offensively limited — Tony Hibbert.

From 2009 to 2013 (that is, from as far back as WhoScored statistics go to his last season of true relevance at Everton), Hibbert completed .82 key passes per 90 minutes and 21.5% of his crosses. Now, realize that those stats come from the back end of Hibbert’s career, when he was becoming more and more ineffective.

Holgate, in his Everton career, averages .56 key passes per 90 and 15.25% crossing completion.

In short, Mason Holgate is a demonstrably worse attacking right-back than Tony Hibbert. That pretty much negates any real usefulness he has at that position, outside of complete and total emergency situations.

At center-back, it’s a little harder to quantify what makes a player unqualified to play. With Holgate though, it all comes down to his inability to succeed at the mental side of the game.

The 21-year-old has all the physical tools — he’s over six feet tall, strong as an ox, and one of the fastest players in the squad. Those physical tools can help to overcome the occasional mental lapse — players like David Luiz and Mamadou Sakho have made solid European careers out of being strong and/or fast enough to negate occasional poor decision making.

With Holgate though, the mental errors are just too frequent for his athleticism to make up the difference. It can sometimes, and you do often see Holgate rushing back from out of position to make a perfect last second tackle that is only possible because of his raw speed.

But overall, his decision making and focus just don’t cut it — and his last two matches are a perfect example of it. His failure to mark VVD on corners against Liverpool wasn’t a physical issue, but simply that he switched off in the vital moment, and couldn’t get back to his man in time to recover.

His foul on Lallana in the box was unnecessary — even if it was somewhat soft, defenders need to know that if you put your arm across an attacker’s midsection, he’s going to go down and give the referee a decision to make. It was an utterly nonsensical move from Holgate, and it put his team in a tough spot in a huge game.

His poor throw in against Manchester United was completely avoidable, but he simply didn’t think about what he was doing for long enough to prevent a breakdown. His passing out of the back is often the same way — he makes the first pass he sees, whether it’s a good pass or not.

That simply isn’t the way a Premier League center-back can operate, with nearly every decision he makes being of the questionable variety.

Maybe he needs to go out on loan, or maybe he’s just simply never going to amount to a Premier League defender. But as of right now, Mason Holgate should never be playing for Everton.