With a wonderful victory against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Everton are surely thrilled to have begun the new campaign with three wins out of three. Two of those in the Premier League see the Blues joint top and Toffees around the world and on Merseyside are excited, but surely still cautious; the back end is thin to be sure, and the two goals by West Brom proved as much. With and without Mason Holgate’s absence, this defensive weakness must be addressed before the Summer window closes in just days, and the tougher matches begin in earnest.
Two names that stand out amongst these whispers are Unai Nunez of Athletic Bilbao and of course, Fikayo Tomori of Chelsea. While the former is a relatively new addition to the discussion of possible defensive answers at Goodison Park, the latter has received a bit more recent attention to this point; which has the best chance of coming, and what would that backer bring to Carlo Ancelotti’s Royal Blue outfit?
Unai Nunez: Backline help from Spain?
This is not the first time we’ve heard the Spanish centre back’s name connected to Everton, simply the first time since briefly during the winter transfer window. At the time, there was also alleged interest from Manchester City and others as well but ultimately he wouldn’t leave Bilbao. Now however, growing frustrated by his lack of consistent opportunity, the possibility arises once more that perhaps Don Carlo might find backline support after addressing the front line and midfield earlier.
What the 23-year-old Nunez would bring to the Blues could be highly beneficial for the club both defensively and offensively. Highly thought of, the defender has 77 appearances over the last three seasons for the Basque side. The organization and communication he would be called to provide would help to stifle opposition opportunities while also allowing for easier transitions to offensive chances like we witnessed against West Brom.
The first two matches, against Tottenham Hotspur and Salford City demonstrated the patience and persistence that Carlo Ancelotti and Big Duncan Ferguson have drilled into the club since they teamed up. While it looked questionable at times last season, the new season has brought new hope to be sure. But if the Toffees are letting up two to West Brom, what might they give up against Arsenal, Chelsea, or their Merseyside rivals over at Anfield?
That is why his presence, this young experience and mature guile is necessary on the back line for Everton. Sitting with Yerry Mina or Mason Holgate, fear would not strike every Toffee as the opposition attacked; while he is firmly a central defender, he is a tough and powerful one and we have all seen the advantage of that in the best squads around Europe. But if Unai Nunez proves still unattainable for the Blues for whatever reason, might Chelsea provide a solution?
Fikayo Tomori: Trading Blues?
The current transfer saga of Fikayo Tomori is particularly interesting because Frank Lampard both needs defenders, as well as to sell players. With the innovations made offensively, they must somehow balance the books to some extent; Tomori is a name that has fluttered across the rumor mill in recent weeks, even despite his upside. And yet, he himself is not reportedly sold on his future elsewhere. Since returning from a loan spell at Derby County (with Lampard) he’s featured 23 times for the Stamford Bridge side, getting two goals, an assist and five clean sheets.
While some reports suggest that he is close to moving north, others say that he is determined to fight for his place on the backline of Stamford Bridge. While this may or may not be to Chelsea’s benefit, the Carlo Ancelotti Revolution requires both ambition and ability. While he hasn’t fit perfectly at Chelsea, greater playing time and the bosses touch could bring life to a thoughtful and promising career at still only 22-years-of-age. The Canadian born Nigerian can potentially provide these qualities and others for his Blue and teammates, alongside wonderful versatility on the pitch.
There is another twist here, with Lampard promoting Tomori ahead of current fourth-choice centrehalf Anton Rudiger that Chelsea might not want to let the younger man go if the German international has been identified as surplus to requirements.
The ambition for this versatility could be seen in the Salford City match in the recent 2nd Round Carabao Cup match. In the victory, quiet new signing Niels Nkounkou, formerly of Marseille, featured his defensive value and work rate marvelously; we also saw Lucas Digne playing centrally after the Branthwaite injury. This demonstrated both our lack of depth, as well as the aforementioned versatility that many of our players are capable of already. But being utilized more widely interchangeably is absolutely crucial. With this said, who is more likely to join, and who’s journey to Merseyside would prove most valuable?
Tomori Over Nunez Ultimately: Youth and Versatility for the Win
While the best case scenario remains to get them both for different reasons and needs, the necessity of choosing one over the other pushes me towards Fikayo Tomori personally. Additionally, I also believe he has the best chance of coming, period. For me, it a matter of his versatility, age, skill set and ability to impact Everton quickly; whether it be a loan so Frank Lampard can get the player more experience for a season or two, or a permanent deal, there is incentive for all parties to get some type of deal done one way or another. The Canadian’s guile is such that, while Mason Holgate is out, and Jarad Branthwaite mends while further developing, Tomori can play centrally as he favors.
And when the centre of the backline has greater continuity? Well, then the can play the right back position as well. This is a sorely needed innovation at Goodison Park and so, if the transfer could be swung and accommodated, it might prove one of the most valuable long term signings of the relatively young Carlo Ancelotti Era.
While it’s a small sample size for Tomori since he only broke into the first team last season, the 22-year-old quickly showed that he belonged at the higher levels. Statistically he appears to be quite superior to Nunez in just about every measurable category.
Overlooked for the visit of defending champions Liverpool this weekend, Tomori was still pressed into action following the sending-off of Andreas Christensen at the end of first half, and then struggled to match the pace of their opponents. Nunez meanwhile was on the bench for Bilbao’s season opener with manager Gaizka Garitano opting to go with a more experienced pairing despite Nunez closing out the end of the last season in the starting lineup.
What we’ve watched so far has been fair play. The Toffees are playing much more smoothly than last season, but there’s still so much to be done. Creating a better sense of security when danger begins to increase in the final third will allow for these brilliant offensive pieces to really blossom and dominate matches like Everton have showed they’re offensively capable of doing; Fikayo Tomori is capable of playing his part to this end.
As can be seen in Germany with Bayern Munich, as well as in the Premier League with Liverpool, dominance is not simply offensive, but defensive as well. Goodison Park needs further support upon the backline, and whether from the north of Spain, west London or both, Marcel Brands must find a way to make the transfer market Royal Blue.