Everton Fullbacks 2017-18
For nearly a decade, Everton has looked to its full-backs to provide width and attacking impetus with bombing runs forward into the attacking third.
You’d suspect, at least at this stage, that this trend will continue. Theo Walcott and Richarlison look to be the club’s top wingers as things stand, and both players are equally comfortable cutting inside or working toward the sideline.
That creates opportunities for the full-backs to get forward into the attack pretty fluidly — be it via an overlapping run past an inward-cutting player, or a late run toward the box inside a wide-lying winger.
The only question then is exactly who those players will be.
We’ll start with the easiest player to define in this bunch — the £60,000 man himself. Coleman looked very much his old self after returning from a horrific leg break last season, a huge relief given the miserable extent of the injury.
He remains defensively reliable, though not the best defensive right-back you’ll ever meet, and his strengths truly lie in what he brings to the attack. His pace, at 29 years old and following a broken leg, seems very much to be intact. Coupled with his confidence on the ball, smart run-making, and decent crossing, Coleman brings a dangerous attacking arsenal.
Barring further injury, Coleman will be a week-to-week starter, no questions asked.
Coleman’s successful return meant the end of a decent run in the starting lineup for Kenny, the Everton academy graduate.
The 21-year-old can’t cross straight to save his life, but his workrate is off the charts, he gets into dangerous areas in the attack, and his defense improved from mildly troubling to more-or-less mediocre over the course of his time in the lineup last season.
He is without a doubt a capable back-up at right-back for a club like Everton. Whether or not he can be any more than that going forward is yet to be seen, but with Coleman’s presence looming large, it isn’t a question the Toffees need to answer any time soon.
In Leighton Baines’ debut season at Everton, Yakubu led the team with 21 goals in all competitions, Lee Carsley and Phil Neville combined for 99 appearances in all competitions, and Everton’s back-up goalie was *checks notes* Stefan Wessels?
The point is that Leighton Baines has been a huge factor at this club for a very long time. When healthy, he was even a positive influence on the team last season — he averaged 1.13 key passes per 90 minutes, a better rate than Theo Walcott, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Seamus Coleman, and Idrissa Gueye, to name a few.
But Everton also seems to be coming to accept that nobody outruns Father Time. Baines turns 34 in December and has missed significant chunks of two of the last three seasons with injury. He remains a valuable player who can certainly contribute at a high level, but Marco Silva and Marcel Brands appear to have their long-term goals at left-back in mind as well...
And thus, they are on the verge of signing Lucas Digne, the Lille product who never managed to quite get going at PSG or Barcelona.
The French left-back brings pace and defensive solidity, but likely not quite the offensive impact that has been the hallmark of Leighton Baines over the last decade. Over his entire career, Digne has averaged 0.76 key passes per 90 minutes. Baines has averaged 1.62.
Now, it would be pretty easy to argue that given the atrocious state of the club’s center-backs, Digne’s defense is more important than what Baines offers in attack — time will tell how true that turns out to be.
Ultimately, that may be the most sensible way to split time between two left-backs who can clearly make a claim for regular playing time — utilize Baines against inferior teams and Digne against superior ones.
There isn’t much to say about everyone’s favorite Curacao international. He’s not particularly good, but he’s a reasonable emergency option at either left-back or right-back, and this season that’s all he’s likely to be.
The addition of Lucas Digne almost certainly ensures that Robinson will go out on loan again this season. While disappointing for me as a US Men’s National Team fan, I cannot deny that another season of full playing time, rather than splitting time with Baines, is probably good for his long-term development.
He was solid for Bolton last year, looked good for the USA in friendlies over the summer, and made a decent impression in preseason. He turns 21 in August, so I suspect 2019-20 will be Robinson’s “put up or shut up” season.
State of the Position
Provided the Digne transfer comes through, full-back is perhaps the strongest position the Toffees have.
Coleman and Baines are Premier League proven, even if the latter is reaching the final stages of his career. Digne comes to Everton with a solid pedigree and lots to prove. Kenny and Robinson have both shown promise in limited appearances so far.
There’s a lot to be nervous about with Everton this season, but this position doesn’t appear to be a problem.