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Everton Season Review: Center-Backs

Taking a look back at how the center-backs performed this season.

Everton v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2017-18 Everton Season Review. Unfortunately, an autopsy is required before we can truly bury this year. Up next, the center-backs.

2017-18 Everton Center-Back Performance

Player League Minutes Tackles/90 Dribbled Past/90 Int/90 Blk/90
Player League Minutes Tackles/90 Dribbled Past/90 Int/90 Blk/90
Phil Jagielka 2065 1.4 0.6 1.7 0.9
Michael Keane 2561 1.2 0.8 1.9 1
Ashley Williams 1835 1.1 0.4 1.8 1.1
Mason Holgate 1183 1.7 0.8 1.7 0.7
Ramiro Funes Mori 121 0 0 2.2 0.7
Eliaquim Mangala 135 1.3 0 0.7 0

Phil Jagielka

Performance: The captain had what we can certainly call an eventful season. He turned 35 just before the season started, and was coming off consecutive seasons limited by injury. Time for the inevitable regression, right?

Not quite. Jagielka struggled early in the season, along with all his Everton teammates, as the Ronald Koeman era ground to a halt. He was leaned on heavily during the David Unsworth era, and the Sam Allardyce took over and the skipper...vanished. Jagielka started just four of the first 15 matches in Allardyce’s reign, including a four-match span in February and March where he didn’t feature in the matchday 18 at all.

But eventually, Allardyce saw reason. Jagielka started each of the Toffees’ final nine matches, and it coincided with Everton’s best spell of the season.

Overall, the Englishman still has solid speed for an aging center-back, reads the game reasonably well, and seems to have formed a solid partnership with the other primary members of the Everton defense. He’s not going to win any awards at this stage of his career, but he’s still a useful player.

Future Outlook: The captain played well enough this season to at least be part of the answer at center-back next season. He’ll be 36 by Premier League kickoff in August, so the club can’t expect him to maintain his current level of performance for much longer. For now though, he’s shown few signs of slowing and should be among the top three center-backs on the roster.

Grade: B -- His solid performance at the end of the season left us wondering why he was excluded for so long under Allardyce. He’s not an international-caliber center-back at this stage, but he’s a decent one. Given the struggles across the pitch for the Toffees this season, he did a reasonable job in front of goal for Everton.

Michael Keane

Performance: Michael Keane’s first season at Everton should probably be defined by the recurring foot injury the English defender suffered for most of it. Keane is a giant, willing to use his strength and aerial ability in his defensive third, but he was in and out of the lineup for the first two-thirds of the season as he dealt with a foot infection.

The extent to which the injury itself slowed him is unclear, but he was plainly impacted by the stop-start nature of his campaign, which limited his ability to form a consistent partnership with his new teammates.

When he finally got healthy though, he found a home alongside Jagielka and between Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman at the back — and Everton’s defense suddenly looked a lot better. Like Jagielka, Keane was an ever-present during Everton’s strong results at the end of the season — and that’s not a coincidence.

Future Outlook: Once Keane got permanently healthy, he showed that he’s a capable Premier League defender. At 25, he’s young enough to form the foundation of the Everton backline going forward, provided that he can maintain his health.

Grade: B — Keane and Jagielka’s grades are predictably linked, as the only fair portion of the season to grade each player on came while the two were partnered at the end of the season. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good enough to be a regular starter for a team in Everton’s current position. Given the way the season went, there isn’t much else that could be asked of him.

Ashley Williams

Performance: Ashley Williams was...fine? in the 2016-17 season. He certainly didn’t blow anyone away with his performances, but he played 36 Premier League matches in a season in which Everton finished seventh — so suggestions that he’s always been terrible at Everton are unfair.

That said, he was terrible at Everton this season. He looked impossibly slow, made wrong defensive reads substantially more frequently than correct ones, and displayed discipline you’d expect from a 19-year-old, not a 33-year-old veteran.

The final straw came against Burnley on March 3. Williams was front-and-center as the Toffees turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit in a match that could have seen them revitalize their European hopes. Then, with five minutes to play, Williams took an egregiously bone-headed red card, dooming his team to mid-table obscurity. He didn’t so much as appear in the matchday 18 for the rest of the season.

Future Outlook: It’s hard to see any way back into the picture for Williams. At 33, he isn’t that old for a center-back, but he looked 55 at times this season, and his attitude has got to come into question at this point. The Toffees are thin in the center of defense past Keane and Jagielka, but Williams has made very clear he isn’t the answer.

Grade: D — Williams started most of the matches in the positive period at the start of the Allardyce campaign, so giving him an F seems unfair. But he was dreadful before and after that period, and there’s no other redeeming qualities of him to mention.

West Ham United v Everton - Premier League Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Mason Holgate

Performance: Mason Holgate is like Ashley Williams, but fast.

His defensive decision-making is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen in a Premier League defender, and it’s hard to say anything about him past that.

Physically, he might be the most gifted athlete at Everton. He’s got outstanding speed, especially for a center-back, and strength beyond what his somewhat wiry frame might suggest. But he’s shown no improvement in the mental side of his game since he first broke into the first team, and that’s an alarming development.

Future Outlook: First things first — Mason Holgate is not a right-back. He should not ever play right-back again for Everton. Period.

Past that, his future is one of the most interesting cases at Everton this summer. As I’ve said, his physical gifts are the sort of stuff you can’t teach, but his propensity toward idiotic plays is usually too much for those gifts to overcome. Might he benefit from a loan to a lower division, where he could see the game a little more clearly? Sure, but whether or not he’d accept that or learn from it is very much up in the air.

Grade: D — Like Williams, Holgate was a regular starter during the brief spell of prosperity at the start of Sam Allardyce’s tenure. Like Williams, he had literally nothing else positive to speak of this season.

Ramiro Funes Mori

Performance: Ramiro missed most of the season with a knee injury -- he played only 118 minutes with the senior team.

In that time, he looked very much the player he’s always been for Everton. Reasonably quick, reasonably strong, decent with the ball in his feet, and prone to moments of extremely poor judgement.

Future Outlook: Unlike Holgate, Funes Mori no longer has the excuse of youth to fall back on when he makes mistakes. He’s now 27 years old, firmly in the prime of his career, but has yet to stake a claim to a regular place at Everton. His injury this season obviously explains a lot of that, but Allardyce certainly wasn’t rushing to get him back in the side once he got healthy.

He’ll get another chance to prove he should be in the regular center-back rotation next preseason, but if the Toffees add a center-back over the summer, he’s going to have to pass one of Jagielka or Keane to get there.

Grade: Incomplete

Eliaquim Mangala

Performance: Remember him? Yeah, me neither.

Mangala played a total of 134 minutes for Everton — with 90 of them coming in the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal. He didn’t look good at any point in those 134 minutes, and it didn’t seem Everton lost much by not having him.

Future Outlook: He came to Goodison on a short-term loan from Manchester City, and I doubt Everton’s next manager will see any reason to give him another shot.

Grade: Incomplete, but probably would have been an F if he actually played.