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 and looking ahead to the final few weeks of the extended 2019-20 season.
Today we are looking at those squad or youth players who may be given a chance to shine in the final few games of the season as Carlo Ancelotti continues to assess his squad.
There is plenty of deadwood who have had more than enough chances to prove themselves. With the absence of supporters meaning a less-pressured environment, this may be the ideal opportunity to introduce young players to the senior side.
Jonas Lossl is expected to stay on loan at Huddersfield Town for the remainder of the season, meaning Maarten Stekelenburg and Joao Virginia will operate as back ups to Jordan Pickford.
Stekelenburg is out of contract this summer but is expected to sign an extension to cover the remaining matches of the current campaign. Neither player is likely to feature bar an injury or suspension to Pickford, whose position as no.1 is secure.
The sight of Cuco Martina playing centre back in last weekend’s warm-up game was a timely reminder that, while some things have changed in our post-Covid world, Everton stubbornly remain the same.
The Curacao international hasn’t played for the Toffees for more than two years, but may be pressed into service should injuries continue to bite in an already vulnerable area of the pitch.
The failed pursuit of Kurt Zouma last summer and subsequent failure to line up a replacement left the squad short of a centre-back anyway. It looked like the team would muddle through, but an injury to Yerry Mina (hopefully minor, according to Carlo’s latest update) leaves Michael Keane and Mason Holgate as the team’s only fit senior central defenders going into the restart.
The three-month break from competitive action and relatively short preparation time means players are going to be well short of match fitness, so more injuries are likely.
Could that mean a surprise place for Martina? I think (I hope) a place on the bench is the best he can hope for, and would be shocked if he is thrown in from the start. His contract is due to expire in two weeks with no extension, short-term or otherwise, seemingly in the offing. I suspect Ancelotti will instead turn to youth.
Unfortunately one of those youthful options, Lewis Gibson, is unavailable as his loan spell at Fleetwood Town has been extended. By all accounts the 19-year-old has thrived at the League One side, helping them secure a place in the play-offs. But while we are deprived of his services in the short-term, the experience he is gaining out on loan is probably more beneficial to his development, which will obviously benefit us in the long-term.
Next on the list therefore is Jarrad Branthwaite, who reportedly impressed Ancelotti when he was called up to the senior squad for last weekend’s intra-squad game.
The 17-year-old, signed from Carlisle for £700,000 in January, has just 14 senior games to his name but may well be among the substitutes on Sunday. And, if injuries continue to bite or Ancelotti decides to experiment in the run-in, the teenager may also get an unexpected taste of regular senior football.
Unlike in defence, there are plenty of options available to Ancelotti in midfield. Unfortunately, most of them have already proven to be ineffective and need to be moved on.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Morgan Schneiderlin and (probably) Fabian Delph do not have long-term futures at the club, while Jean-Phillipe Gbamin is crocked (again) for the rest of the year. So there is definitely scope for experimentation should Ancelotti choose to.
Beni Baningime has endured an injury-ravaged spell after breaking into the senior squad during David Unsworth’s time in senior charge 18 months ago (remember THAT tackle against Chelsea on his debut?). The 21-year-old has been pictured training with the senior squad so hopefully that means his injury problems are behind him. He is certainly worth experimenting with in that defensive midfield role alongside Andre Gomes.
Dennis Adeniran is also a contender. The midfielder cost Everton nearly £4m when he joined from Fulham three years ago but has yet to make his full debut. He is another I’d like to be given a chance ahead of those who have already failed to grasp their opportunity.
The form of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin means the striking positions are pretty much sewn up in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2, though Moise Kean will hope for some action in the run-in.
Kean made the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by having a party and then plastering it all over social media. It did little to quell suspicions about his temperament and professionalism, though most of those calling for him to be sold come from outside the club. The majority of supporters desperately want the young forward to succeed and have seen glimmers of his potential on the limited occasions we have seen him on the pitch.
The appointment of his compatriot Ancelotti can only help, and if the extra few months in lockdown (illegal party aside) have helped him settle, these final nine games could the chance to revive his Everton career.
Meanwhile, there are already clamours for Anthony Gordon to be given an extended run in the team before the season is out.
The 19-year-old is the furthest down the development trail of all the recent academy graduates, having already made three substitute appearances for the senior side this season. He is also believed to have impressed Ancelotti in training.
A born and bred scouser, he is certain to be a popular inclusion among the Goodison faithful, who love nothing better than to see one of their own come through the ranks (though that can also quickly change, see under: Davies, Tom).
With Theo Walcott injured (shocked face), Gordon could even be plunged straight into the side to take on Liverpool. It would be a bold selection by Ancelotti but youth has proven no barrier to success in Merseyside derbies past.
Sunday’s game in an empty Goodison is already set to be a surreal occasion. An Everton winner scored by a home-grown academy graduate would at least make it a memorable one.