Next up in our player by player review of the past Everton season, in which each individual will be recapped and rated is: Lucas Digne
Of the myriad problems Marcel Brands faced last summer, finding a long-term replacement for Leighton Baines must have been high on his list. The full-back has been a fine servant to the club over the last decade but age is starting to creep up on the former England man.
It was also a chief concern amongst the supporters who were acutely aware that players of the level and consistency of Baines are hard to come by.
The sight of Cuco Martina awkwardly playing out of position while Baines was injured during the 2017-18 season was symbolic of the muddled transfer policy of the previous era and the damaging consequences it had on the team. Everton could not afford to make the same mistake this time.
Thankfully Brands looks much more competent than the previous regime and in Lucas Digne has found a worthy successor to Baines’ crown. The 25-year-old joined from Barcelona for around £18 million on August 1, signing a five-year deal at Goodison Park.
You can’t help but not think of a young Baines when looking at Digne’s stats, with the full-back making an impact at either end of the field.
Of the defenders starting 10 games or more only Kurt Zouma had a better tackle success rate than Digne. Meanwhile, his 165 open play crosses is more than twice that of opposite full-back Seamus Coleman, despite only starting six more games than the Irishman. In total Digne made 280 crosses in 2018-19, more than any player in the Premier League.
Like Baines, he also proved adept at set pieces which saw him weigh in with four goals and four assists, including a fine free-kick equaliser against Watford and that spectacular volley against Manchester United.
Digne’s stellar play not only has him considered as one of the best leftbacks in the Premier League, it’s brought him back into the France international picture as well - the World Champions are spoiled for choices across the board, but the Everton player is becoming a regular first choice for Didier Deschamps.
Baines began the season as first choice left-back but an error in giving away a penalty in the draw at Bournemouth in late August opened the door for Digne.
The Frenchman made his debut in the Carabao Cup win over Rotherham next game and didn’t look back. The only games he missed from then until late January was the Carabao cup loss to Southampton and the FA Cup tie with Lincoln, on both occasions he was rested.
The 25-year-old was dropped for the trip to Huddersfield at the start of February as Marco Silva made changes in the wake of that disastrous defeat at Millwall. He made it off the bench in the second half when Baines pulled up injured but would only last 11 minutes before being sent off, causing him to miss the next game against Wolves through suspension. He regained his place for the next game against Manchester City and never lost it.
The left-back position is Digne’s to keep for as a long as he wants it. There has been some rather wild speculation regarding a possible swap deal involving Tottenham’s Danny Rose but Everton would be mad to consider selling the Frenchman at this stage. His performances may well catch the eye of some of Europe’s elite in the near future, but I’m hopeful that Digne will be happy to stay for a few years at least and see if Everton can bridge that gap.
A fine first campaign and worthy recipient of the Player of the Year award. There’s little to find fault with.