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Everton Season Preview: Centre Backs

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Toffees’ biggest question mark remains in the heart of the defence

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League
The cluster-eff that is the Everton backline
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Stats

2017-18 Centrebacks

Player Minutes Goals Assists Pass % Int+Tkl/90 Clrnces/90
Player Minutes Goals Assists Pass % Int+Tkl/90 Clrnces/90
Phil Jagielka 2065 0 0 75.9 3.1 7.5
Ashley Williams 1835 1 0 80.7 3.0 7.8
Michael Keane 2561 0 1 77.8 3.1 7.2
Mason Holgate^ 1183 0 0 67.4 3.7 7.1
Matthew Pennington* 1524 0 0 71.6 3.4 9.5
Tyias Browning* 2244 0 0 69.8 3.6 7.3

^ - includes stats at the right back position
* - Championship minutes

Tactics

Yet another managerial change means yet another formation change, somewhat. While Marco Silva’s 4-3-3 is not so different from whatever Sam Allardyce had on the chalkboard, what is expected of the players will be completely different.

Silva’s system asks the front four to apply pressure on the opponents when they are in possession, but it’s the classic #8 midfielder that plays a key role here. The defence is expected to hold a high line to compress the pitch with the holding midfielder sweeping in front of that.

And therein lies the issue we’ve already seen multiple times during this preseason. The defence is slow and clumsy to turn, so the backline pushing up just creates more space for speedy forwards to run into. Additionally, the poor ball skills in that corps doesn’t lend itself to quick transitions in possession, making the Blues very predictable going forward. Double whammy.

Current Players

Phil Jagielka

Club captain Phil Jagielka looks to have aged rapidly over the last year and seems to have lost any pace he might have previously had. The ease with which he has been brushed off the ball in the preseason should be giving the Blues’ management heart palpitations.

Ashley Williams

Equally awful is another veteran Ashley Williams who continues to plumb new depths of inanity whenever he lines up for the Blues. Never blessed with pace, the new defensive system of maintaining a high line has been giving him fits and he appears completely unsuited for the role.

Michael Keane

Big money buy last summer Michael Keane has unsurprisingly failed to deliver once removed from Burnley’s team defensive system. Slow to turn, he’s shown why Manchester United gave up on him, and the Blues will have to pair him up with a true centrehalf star to get anything close to a half-decent season out of him.

Mason Holgate

Youngster Mason Holgate still has a lot to learn, especially with his positioning and temperament. He does have the physical attributes it would take to play the high line Marco Silva wants to see, but once again he would need a world-class partner next to him to learn from. Odd why he has been held off the pitch for most of the preseason despite Silva saying he is an important part of the squad and will not be loaned out.

Matthew Pennington

Matthew Pennington has also looked out of his depth this preseason, with his positioning suspect and pace unsteady. Despite an unremarkable loan spell at Leeds United who were not unhappy to return the player to Everton, the Blues surprisingly gave him a new three year deal over the summer. The rumoured loan to Wigan will be best for both player and parent club.

Tyias Browning

The only other centrehalf on the senior side’s books is Tyias Browning who struggled at bottom-of-the-Championship Sunderland, is also well off the Premier League pace and unlikely to feature for the club again.

State of the Position

Dire. Marcel Brands has exactly ten days to remedy this situation or else Everton will be nailed on to have a worse start to the season than last year.

The high line that Silva has been playing with in the preseason exposes centrehalves who are slow to turn and/or positionally inept, which is exactly what we have seen so far. That combined with the forward line failing to press as a unit leaves opponents all the time in the world to play a pass beyond the backline and slot home easily.

Everton desperately need at least one Premier League starting calibre centreback, and two would be better really. The Yerry Mina talks appear to be dead in the water and now Marcos Rojo is being linked which is out of character for Marcel Brands, seeing that the Argentine is 28. Ben Gibson might be the only other recognizable name out there, but it appears the Blues have left their business too late at this position.

Update:

Everton left their business late updating this position, but brought in two starting calibre centrebacks in Yerry Mina and Kurt Zouma, which could vastly change our fortunes.

Mina is unproven at this level, but certain has the physical ability to be successful. The more cerebral elements will come with working with Silva and being around Jagielka.

Zouma is definitely a good pick-up - it’s puzzling how Chelsea refuse to see the potential in him, but he certainly adds some quality depth to a weak backline corps.