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Everton’s season so far: Goalkeeper and Defence

A recap of how the Blues’ back line has fared so far this campaign

Everton FC v Sheffield United - Premier League
Jordan Pickford has endured a difficult season at Everton
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Ahead of Everton’s first game since March in the Merseyside derby on June 21, we’re recapping how the Blues have fared in each area of the pitch in what’s been a pretty trying season, for the most part.

Let’s start in the most sensible place: at the back, where a once-sturdy and impregnable and defence has been punctured more than a few times this season:

Goalkeeper

After a superb first campaign at Everton in 2017-18, that difficult second campaign followed in 2018-19 for Jordan Pickford with performances ranging from excellent to exasperating.

Still, he ended last season with eight clean sheets in his last 11 games, so there was momentum to build on this season. Sadly, it hasn’t carried for the most part, in what has been inarguably Pickford’s most disappointing year at Goodison Park.

The England number one has been far from hopeless, but has only six league clean sheets and has conceded a string of goals that you would typically expect a keeper of his calibre to keep out. Free-kicks from Riyad Mahrez and Pascal Gross, as well as that galling blunder against Christian Benteke, spring to mind (even if he did make a wonderful point-blank save soon after).

Everton Training Session
Can Everton rely on Pickford or Stekelenburg?
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Pickford is still yet to miss a single Premier League match for Everton since his arrival from Sunderland in June 2017, but perhaps at this point that owes more to the paucity of alternatives between the sticks.

Maarten Stekelenburg is surely leaving this summer after an underwhelming four years at Goodison, Jonas Lossl was clearly deemed surplus to requirements having been loaned back to previous club Huddersfield (18th in the Championship) and youngster Joao Virginia struggled to such an extent on loan at Reading that his deal at the Madejski Stadium was cut short.

Whether it’s a new number one altogether or a stronger number two to enhance competition and push Pickford more, goalkeeper is one department where business must be done at Everton once this season is out of the way.

Defence

In fairness to Pickford, it’s often said that a goalkeeper is only as good as the defence in front of him, and Everton’s has certainly not been particularly good for much of 2019-20, either.

The back line that looked so rigid at the end of last season of Seamus Coleman, Michael Keane, Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne quickly vanished, owing in part to Everton’s failure to land Chelsea loanee Zouma on a permanent basis.

Keane and Digne, in particular, have fallen from grace emphatically, considering how consistently impressive their performances were last term. Certainly, Leighton Baines can count himself unfortunate not to have played more than six times given Digne’s struggles and Baines’ own high-quality showings at left-back this season.

Everton Training Session
Keane and Digne have both struggled this term
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Coleman, now 31, is showing tentative signs of decline and has never truly looked the same marauding right-back as before his horror leg injury in March 2017. Though Jonjoe Kenny has shown encouraging signs on loan at Schalke, Djibril Sidibé has waxed and waned during his own loan spell at Goodison from Monaco.

Despite being Everton’s second-highest assist creator with four, and certainly showing his quality on a number of occasions, World Cup winner Sidibé rarely inspires confidence from a defensive point of view, and veers from wonderful to woeful without ever establishing any solid middle ground.

If there are any positives in this department, it’s the form of Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate in central defence. After spending most of his first season at Everton either on the bench or the injury list, Mina has begun to repay the £27 million the Blues shelled out to Barcelona for him, while Holgate has excelled since breaking into the starting XI in late October.

Watford FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Mina and Holgate have the makings of a good central defensive partnership for Everton
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

The Colombian is the more towering, dogged presence, but Holgate’s quality on the ball and in the tackle, as well as how vocal he is on the pitch, has been among the best assets of Everton’s defence this season.

Here’s hoping they pick up where they left off in that regard when the Premier League resumes this week.