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Lucas Digne — Everton’s newest star

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Just how good has the Frenchman been so far?

Everton v Valencia - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Lucas Digne has had a weird career.

At 25 years old, he came to Everton with two Ligue 1 titles, two La Liga titles, a FIFA U-20 World Cup title, and a UEFA Euro runners-up medal. And yet, he was to some extent an unknown quantity after the Toffees forked over £18 million pounds for him to Barcelona.

It was a circuitous route that led him to Goodison Park. After one full-time season at Lille, Paris St. Germain was convinced that Digne was a worthwhile addition to their mid-big-money-expansion club. They proceeded to hand him only 29 league and 3 Champions League appearances over the course of two years, then loaned him out to AS Roma.

At Roma, Digne again was quite successful, playing in 33 Serie A matches as well as 8 Champions League games for the Italian side during the 2015-16 season. That impressive loan stint caught the attention of Barcelona — who proceeded to have him feature in only 29 La Liga and 7 Champions League appearances over two seasons.

Starting to sense a theme?

So approaching his move to Everton with a little bit of skepticism was fair — was this player just a big club washout, or capable of big things and never given a fair chance at those clubs?

Through six Premier League appearances at Everton, it is looking exceedingly clear that the latter is true, and that Digne could very well become Everton’s next star. He’s played 440 minutes in the Premier League so far, so there is obviously some caution needed when assessing the player.

But, Digne so far passes both the eye test and the statistical analysis with flying colors, indicating he is likely already one of the Premier League’s best left-backs. Consider some of the following statistics from the early season:

(Note: all positional rankings are among PL left-backs with at least three starts on the left side of defense. 19 players met this criteria, one from each team, save for Bournemouth.)

  • Digne averages 2.9 completed long balls per 90 minutes, second-best in the Premier League.
  • His 63.4% completion on long balls is the best among left-backs by a lot — no other eligible player completes more than 50% of such passes.
  • The Frenchman completes 77.8% of his short passes, around average among the league’s left-backs.
  • Digne completes 2.3 crosses per 90 minutes, tied for best among comparable players. Jose Holebas is the only other left-back to complete crosses as regularly, and his completion percentage is substantially worse.
  • He puts up 2.3 successful tackles per 90 minutes — good for sixth among Premier League left-backs. Comparing tackling statistics between players on different teams can be misleading because teams who have the ball less will obviously see their defenders attempt more tackles. So to contextualize that number, consider that Digne has only been dribbled past one time this season, the best such total in both raw total and per 90.
  • Digne gets 2.5 interceptions and 1.7 blocked passes per 90 minutes, both the best among eligible left-backs.
  • The Frenchman has only 1 assist — Jose Holebas has 4, and a handful of other left-backs have 2.
  • Digne’s expected assist (xA) total is 36th in the league among all positions. The only defenders with better xA totals are Holebas, Kieran Trippier, Andrew Robertson, and Benjamin Mendy.

What does all that mean? To me, there’s a couple of takeaways.

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

First of all, Digne is solid defensively. That’s definitely what the eye test says as well, but it’s nice to see the numbers back that up. As I said above, raw tackling numbers don’t necessarily tell you much, but that his rates are around league average indicates there’s certainly nothing wrong with that part of his game.

Combine that with his outrageously good interception, block, and dribbled past numbers and you’re looking at a player who can more than hold his own on defense — especially when you consider his last two league starts came with the not-exactly-defensive-minded Richarlison and Bernard playing in front of him.

In attack, there’s good and bad within his numbers.

The good comes in the form of his long passing, crossing, and key passes, with the bad (relatively speaking anyway) in his short passing, xA, and assists. Those numbers reflect the nature of the way Everton looks to play (and some of the club’s shortcomings this season).

Everton FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Marco Silva has been determined to play through the wide areas as much as possible, often forgoing prolonged spells of possession in the defensive and middle thirds. That means that Digne doesn’t get as many easy short passes as a player like Mendy or Robertson, whose teams will possess the ball more than Everton. The result is that his short passing percentage is a little underwhelming, but that seems more indicative of the Toffees’ current style than any shortcoming of Digne’s.

The same can be said of Digne’s xA and assist totals. To put it mildly, Everton’s strikers haven’t exactly gotten off to a roaring start this season, and the upshot of that is that they often haven’t been able to generate good chances even when receiving good passes (reducing the average xA of a chance generated by Digne), as well as simply missing chances they should have put away from Digne’s passes (reducing his overall assist tally).

The only real criticism that can be levied at Digne at this point is that he hasn’t faced particularly challenging opposition in an Everton shirt yet.

The best team the Toffees have played to this point is easily Arsenal, a match in which Digne lined up opposite Mesut Ozil, who **checks notes** is not actually a winger.

Digne has proven that against mid-table teams or lower, he can be an absolute game-changer from the left-back position. If he can do the same against the opponents Everton faces before January 1, he’ll have well and truly sealed his place as the club’s newest star.