Of the many beneficiaries from Michael Keane’s recent rejuvenation, Yerry Mina is probably not one of them.
A reported £30 million purchase from Burnley in summer 2017, Keane was supposed to receive the baton passed on from Everton club captain Phil Jagielka, now 36, as the composed, uncompromising central defender that the veteran has been for more than a decade.
That many Evertonians still regarded Jagielka, who at times kept him out of the side, as the club’s best centre-half last season, epitomises the sheer depth of Keane’s plight. A sluggish, clumsy shadow of his former self at the Clarets, the 25-year-old became synonymous with a campaign fraught with turmoil for Everton.
An unconvincing pre-season under new boss Marco Silva led some to expect Keane to be marginalised this season, especially following the deadline-day arrivals of Mina, a £27 million signing from Barcelona, and Kurt Zouma, on a season-long loan from Chelsea.
But Mina’s prolonged foot problem sustained in the World Cup, in which he was colossal for Colombia, gave Keane a final opportunity to stake his claim for a regular space in the line-up, and he has unequivocally taken it.
An encouraging early start to the campaign, including scoring his first Premier League goal for Everton at Bournemouth, was cruelly curtailed by suffering a hairline fracture in the same game at the Vitality Stadium.
That he returned from a potentially serious injury in less than a month, and has only improved since his first match back at Arsenal, is a testament to Keane’s determination to hold down his place.
Keane and Zouma have started the last three league games together; in that time, the club kept their first clean sheet and away win of the season in the victories against Fulham and Leicester City respectively.
Essentially, Zouma resembles a far better defensive partner for Keane than the ageing Jagielka, the lamentable Ashley Williams, or the inexperienced Mason Holgate ever did, and it would be entirely unfair on either Keane or Zouma to break the pair up merely to accommodate Mina.
Less than a week after Mina’s August arrival, director of football Marcel Brands told the story of how the club went about acquiring his services; saying he watched Colombia and England’s last 16 clash on July 3, when Mina scored a stoppage-time equaliser.
Brands admitted his remark after Mina’s goal was: “s**t, he’s scored” knowing that the extra publicity he had now gained would cause Barcelona to raise their asking price.
That game was more than a month before Mina joined, highlighting the amount of time dedicated by the club to signing the 6ft 4in defender; couple this with Brands’ fears about his fee and it is clear he had long been a key target of the Dutchman’s.
Consequently, it is inevitable that, once finally fit, Mina will get his chance eventually. But having landed on a successful formula in recent weeks, Silva should neglect making changes solely for change’s sake.
In the case of central midfielder André Gomes, a fellow eleventh-hour Nou Camp arrival, there is a more substantial argument to put him straight in than Mina.
Loanee Gomes joined the Blues with a hamstring injury - his only football since March a friendly in mid-May with Barcelona - and a further setback since joining the Toffees has meant he, like Mina, has yet to grace the Goodison Park turf.
Earmarked as the sort of creative midfielder Everton desperately lack, it may be that needs must and Gomes' Blues debut comes sooner than his former Catalan team-mate.
After an appalling campaign last year, Morgan Schneiderlin has looked far closer this season to the indomitable figure he first looked for Everton.
But given the Frenchman’s natural preference simply to keep the ball, the axis of Schneiderlin and fellow defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye has seldom demonstrated any sort of creative spark.
Schneiderlin is ideal for keeping the Blues ticking over and for seeing out leads, and unlike last term, his determination this time around cannot be questioned. But Silva would be incredibly naïve to ever expect him to be the lynchpin of Everton’s attack.
He has, of late, lost his place to Tom Davies who, though far more dynamic than the one-paced Schneiderlin, has seen his own performance levels this season fluctuate from game to game. While he has received unwarranted levels of criticism from some quarters, Davies has evidently not yet hit his best form consistently.
At just 20, Davies has already made 78 appearances for his boyhood club, and though he has dealt admirably with being given the captain’s armband recently, it is important both club and manager are not overly reliant an individual of such a tender age, from a footballing and a leadership viewpoint.
To do so would replicate the mistakes Everton made with Ross Barkley who, as much as many fans would loathe to admit it, the Blues have not replaced since his acrimonious January move to Chelsea.
For all of Roberto Martinez’s unnecessary fawning over Barkley, and the equally detrimental detached attitude Ronald Koeman took with the player, Everton do not have a midfielder whose passes could split defences open like his could, at least sporadically if not consistently.
Wonder goals aside, Gylfi Sigurðsson excels at this in his role behind the striker, but with every sideways or stray ball played further down the Goodison field, this issue only becomes more stark.
Gomes’ career is hardly brimming with goals and assists; the former, his best is six with Benfica in 2013/14, and the latter, he has never managed more than five at Valencia in 2015/16.
But while Silva has solved several of the glaring problems he inherited in Everton’s squad, namely at left-back, central defence and on the wings, a creative central midfielder still eludes him, and Gomes could prove the antidote to such a patent shortcoming.
Both Mina and Gomes have significant parts to play in royal blue this season; both are now in full training and played in last week’s behind-closed-doors friendly at Finch Farm, suggesting their recoveries are nearing completion.
But if the way in which Bernard was eased in to the fold taught Silva anything, it is that neither should be rushed back into action, especially given the alarming length of time they have each been sidelined.
The tiny Brazilian had not previously played since March, and did not make his first league start until last weekend’s win at Leicester. But he is now flourishing on the left flank, having not been immediately thrown in at the deep end.
Only Silva will know when the time is right to blood the pair, but Gomes looks the better bet to make his Blues bow first.