With a week off due to the international break, RBM is taking a look at where Everton stands at each position across the pitch with just seven matches to play. Who is in good standing? Who needs to prove themselves? Who are some potential transfer targets at the position — and how badly are they needed?
Today, we’re taking a look at the club’s situation at full-back.
Over the past five or so years, full-back has been Everton’s obvious position of strength. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are among the best pairings in the Premier League, and when both are available, it’s smooth sailing for the Toffees.
Unfortunately, Coleman and Baines have barely played together at all this season. Coleman suffered a leg break on international duty toward the end of last season, which kept him out until January 31...at which point Baines was out with a calf injury.
They’ve finally played together in Everton’s last two matches — both victories! But is that model sustainable for the rest of this season, and beyond? Let’s take a closer look.
The English left-back turned 33 in December, but he’s looked more or less like the same old Bainesy when healthy. That “when healthy” is the big question mark though — he’s missed significant time due to injury in each of the last three seasons.
And of course, he won’t be playing forever, even if he can stay healthy. He’s more than good enough to be the starting left-back for this team next year — so he’s got nothing to prove the remainder of this season. However, the Toffees need a capable backup and heir apparent at left-back.
Coleman, like Baines, has looked like his old self when able to play this season. There isn’t much more to say about him, honestly.
At only 29, he should still have more than a few good years left in him — as long as that broken leg has indeed healed up properly. The remainder of his season might serve as a reminder of what could have been if he was healthy — but little else.
Initially distrusted by Ronald Koeman at the start of the season, Kenny took the starting right-back job under David Unsworth and held it tightly until Coleman’s return. At only 21 years old, this was his breakout season.
He’s certainly not perfect — his crossing and defensive decision making can be suspect. But he’s young, gets to learn from one of the best in the game, and should be willing to work hard in training and wait for his chances. You can’t ask much more from a reserve right-back.
The Curacao international was a common target of scorn in the opening weeks of the season. A lot of that criticism was unfair — Koeman was asking Cuco Martina to play like Seamus Coleman when he’s...well...Cuco Martina.
The emergence of Jonjoe Kenny planted Martina on the bench for a stretch, before an injury to Leighton Baines thrust him into an uncomfortable spot at left-back. No one will be writing any ballads about his performance in that position, but he was decent and reliable — something work commending on a team that has been full of unpredictable performances this season.
He’s no good going forward, and most certainly is not a player who should be relied upon as sole cover at left-back. But, he’ll be a good player to have in the squad going forward in case of multiple injuries at the full-back position.
Luke Garbutt and Mason Holgate
I have no idea what the deal with Luke Garbutt is. He was solid when he played with the U23s this season, Sam Allardyce added him to the Premier League squad in January, he made the bench for one match, and we’ve seen none of him since. It’s hard for me to see a way back for him at this stage.
I discussed the case of Mason Holgate on Tuesday with my look at the club’s center-backs. He’s played at right-back as well this season, so he needs to be briefly mentioned here. But, he’s not a right-back. Period.
He should never again play at right-back. Period.
Things are pretty secure at right-back. Coleman is a clear No. 1 right-back when healthy, and Kenny is a capable backup.
At left-back, Baines is still a quality first option — but he’s not getting any younger. Cuco Martina shouldn’t be relied upon as the only other left-back option either.
So, the club should spend this summer looking for a young left-back who can back up Baines for one-to-two years before taking the job full-time. Potential targets who meet that description include:
Shaw’s candidacy as a potential Baines replacement has become something of a running gag among RBM staffers — but the move would make a fair bit of sense.
He’ll be 23 by the start of next season, both young enough to accept a back-up role and experienced enough to be relied upon if needed. He’s surely run out of time at Manchester United, where his inclusion has been a will he/won’t he saga with Jose Mourinho.
If the Toffees are eyeing someone with a little more recent playing time, Philipp Max could be an option. Allardyce was rumored to be interested in the German left-back in December, and interested could be renewed this summer.
The interest is certainly sensible. Max has played all but 10 minutes for mid-table Augsburg this season, notching a staggering 13 assists for the club.
However, it’s less clear how he’d fit into the side. It’s hard to see him moving from being an every-day starter for a mid-table Bundesliga club to, at best, an every-other-game type of player at a mid-table Premier League side.
There was also rumored interest in December for Spanish left-back Aarón Martín. Like Max, he’s been a constant in his club, Espanyol’s, side — he’s played every league minute for the club this season, save a January match which he was forced to sit out due to yellow card accumulation.
However, his attacking contribution is significantly more muted. In 62 appearances for Espanyol, he’s yet to record a goal or an assist.
Historically, Everton have relied pretty heavily on their full-backs for offense. The team is in need of a substantial enough rebuild that reliance on attacking full-backs could theoretically change going forward, so don’t rule Martín out entirely — but he seems definitely third choice among these options.
The task at full-back for Everton is perhaps more straightforward than any other position. There’s really no proving ground for the club’s full-backs in the closing weeks of the season, and all that needs to be added is a left-back of the future.
But, the club still needs to get that move right.