Stats 2019-20 Central defenders
The lengthy but ultimately fruitless pursuit of Kurt Zouma last summer left Marco Silva with just three senior centre-backs at his disposal going into the 2019-20 campaign.
Thankfully, no more than one of Michael Keane, Mason Holgate or Yerry Mina were injured at any one time for the majority of the campaign, though you’d hope Everton do not seek to rely on similar good fortune this time around.
The relative lack of options meant Silva rarely strayed from a back four, usually in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
He did field three centre-backs in his final two games in charge against Leicester City and Liverpool, with disastrous consequences, and perhaps in desperation to find a solution to the side’s struggles.
Duncan Ferguson switched back to a 4-4-2 for his caretaker spell in charge, with Carlo Ancelotti largely sticking to that formation when he took over at the end of December. It seems likely that he will again rely on a flat back four this time around.
Keane and Mina began the campaign as first choice partnership, starting the first nine league games, before a foot injury suffered by the Colombia international saw Holgate come in.
The 23-year-old had spent the previous season on loan at West Brom in the Championship, with some questioning whether he had a long-term future at Goodison Park. However, the former Barnsley youngster allayed any concerns about his ability to perform at the elite level.
After making his first league start against Brighton in October, Holgate would miss just one game until the coronavirus shutdown in March. He then started the first four matches of the restart, with his campaign only cut short by a foot injury.
With Mina also sidelined with a hamstring injury, young Jarrad Branthwaite was handed an early opportunity. Signed from Carlisle in January, the 18-year-old was probably plunged into the first-team sooner than Ancelotti would have hoped, but the teenager coped admirably, particularly in the 1-0 win at Sheffield United. His emergence was a real bonus in what potentially could have been a problem position during the season run-in.
Michael Keane - The former Burnley man comes across as a confidence player whose form often reflects that of the team, making him a decent barometer of the team’s general health. A largely injury-free campaign meant he played more minutes than any other central defender last term, including every minute of the restart, and was rewarded with a new five-year contract over the summer. He isn’t as confident bringing the ball out of defence as some of his team-mates and struggles when playing a high line. But he is well liked by Ancelotti and is likely to be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Yerry Mina - For someone who supposedly has fitness issues, Mina only missed 10 games in all competitions last season, with only Keane playing more minutes. He is quicker, more mobile and, despite his occasional ungainly style, better on the ball than Keane, meaning he is likely to be a first-choice centre-back when fit this campaign.
Mason Holgate - Enjoyed a real breakthrough season last year when many were doubting whether he had what it takes to be a Premier League regular. Having played at right-back several times during his career he isn’t afraid to carry the ball out of defence, while his performances during the restart also suggested he was developing leadership qualities that marks him down as a potential captain in the coming years. It’s just a shame that a foot injury suffered in last week’s friendly win over Preston is set to sideline him for around six weeks.
Jarrad Branthwaite - Was one of the few plus points to emerge from the restart, the 18-year-old looks to have all the attributes required to become a top centre half. Despite his rapid promotion to the senior squad, I still suspect a loan move and guaranteed regular football would be the best option for his development right now.
Lewis Gibson - Gibson probably would have played ahead of Branthwaite had he not been on loan at League One Fleetwood Town, where all reports suggested he thrived. The 20-year-old is now approaching a critical point of his career where regular football is essential. A Championship loan, at least for the first half of the season, would probably be the ideal next step with the aim of knocking on the door of the first team by next spring.
State of the Position
Everton are clearly one central defender short and that needs to be one of Ancelotti’s priorities before the deadline, especially following Holgate’s injury. After spending the entire summer linked with players like Gabriel Magalhaes, Thiago Silva and Branislav Ivanovic only to watch them all join Premier Leaue rivals is especially frustrating.
However, Branthwaite and Gibson both have potential and could fill in for the next few weeks, but I hope that by October 5 they will be out playing regular football on loan with a more experienced option, such as Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori, brought in as cover.