Next up in our player by player review of the past Everton season, in which each individual will be recapped and rated is: Michael Keane
The 2017-18 Everton transfer class consisted of players who were generally slam-dunk or huge-miss signings — with very little in between.
Jordan Pickford and Gylfi Sigurdsson? Solid from the moment they arrived.
Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez? Doomed to be little more than a waste of money after just a few matches.
Perhaps the only senior addition from last season whose long-term fate seemed unclear was Michael Keane. He looked incredible in pre-season, solid to start the season, and then hampered by a nagging foot injury that kept him in and out of the lineup and looking underwhelming when he did play.
Thankfully, 2017-18 Michael Keane is a thing of the past.
He suffered a scary skull fracture early in the season, but after that, he was a surefire first-team starter at center-back, partnering usually with Kurt Zouma to develop one of the best open-play defenses in the Premier League this season.
He only sat out three games after that early injury, the last of which was the fateful 2-0 loss against Fulham that cost Everton a chance at a Europa League place.
Though Keane and Zouma are the same size, there’s an undeniable sense that Keane plays bigger. He’s an absolute menace in the air, winning the second-most aerial duels among defenders in the Premier League.
Keane’s ability to play out of the back also improved this season, with the Englishman completing a career-best 80.8% of his passes in Premier League play.
Like Zouma, he really should be better in attack on set pieces given his size and aerial prowess, but that’s the only significant complaint that can be levied against him in regards to this season.
As I mentioned in Zouma’s season review, when Everton is at its best, it’s high pressing the living hell out of opponents. We talk a lot about how that affects the attackers and midfielders, but a successful press relies just as much on its defenders’ ability to put out fires caused by long balls over the top.
I’ll admit that I had a lot of concerns about how Keane — by no means the fleetest of foot — would handle that pressure. In the end, he wound up acquitting himself quite well for a guy of his size and body type. He’s always going to be at his best when partnered with a quicker defense partner like Zouma or Yerry Mina, but he genuinely proved not to be a liability based on his foot speed.
Everton conceded only three counter-attack goals (per WhoScored) in Premier League play — that seems to indicate that Keane was at least not a huge liability based on his speed. He also only picked up two yellow cards all season, which also supports the claim that he wasn’t frequently finding himself in defensive panic situations where he was forced to commit tactical fouls.
There are questions at center-back given Zouma’s return to Chelsea and Mina’s injury history — but Michael Keane looks every bit the rock that Evertonians hoped he’d be at the start of last season.
At 26 years old, he’s still got a lot of good football ahead of him, and Everton has him under contract until the end of the 2021-22 season. There isn’t a whole lot more that a club in Everton’s current position could ask for from its first-choice center-back.