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Analysis of Everton’s right-back options

Toffees appear to be actively looking for Seamus Coleman’s replacement

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton Club Captain Seamus Coleman has served the Toffees well over the years, belying his meagre £60,000 price tag when he arrived from Sligo Rovers exactly eleven years ago. However, the Republic of Ireland international is 32 and much like the Blues did with Leighton Baines, they are now looking to find his long-term replacement and bring him in sooner than later.

The transfer rumours swirling around Everton and right backs Max Aarons and Mehmet Zeki Çelik do not bode well for the current back up Jonjoe Kenny, who has struggled to make an impression on Carlo Ancelotti who has preferred to use centrehalf Mason Holgate at the position when the veteran Irishman has been out.

Coleman has one more season after this one on his current contract, but the durable fullback is likely to see out his playing days on Merseyside and possibly make the switch to coaching within the Club’s structure much like Baines has done. Which would make this January window ideal for Director of Football to secure the future of this position now while the heir to Seamus’ position could still learn from the veteran.

Let’s take a look at the five players currently in the mix at right back, starting with the incumbent.

Seamus Coleman - A picture of consistency

What an incredible signing he has turned out to be. There is no way that when David Moyes signed Coleman that either he or the entire Blues fanbase could have thought that things would have turned out like they have.

The 32-year-old has played 332 times across all competitions, picking up 26 goals and 29 assists from his darting runs down the right flank while becoming a feisty and vocal leader of the team. As a smallish fullback, Coleman has always been aware of his aerial limitations and instead has relied on his pace and positioning to get the defensive job done. He is by no means the best defender to have played the position for the Blues, but the Irishman has made up in grit and tireless effort where he lacks in skill and size.

He has done well to come back from a horrific leg injury, and aside from that has proven to be quite durable, missing no more than three games in each of the last four seasons. Some of the speed and initiative is now gone, but Coleman can still do a shift when needed by Ancelotti. At a not unreasonable £70,000 per week, it’s not hurting the Everton wage bill to keep him until the summer of 2022.

Everton v Preston North End - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

Jonjoe Kenny - What could have been

Everton have not had much luck recently in trying to provide an heir apparent to a legendary fullback when promoting from within. When Tony Hibbert was nearing the end of an -ahem- epic career, the cupboard from the Academy was bare and a 30-year-old Phil Neville was used to fill the breach until Coleman was signed.

Then while Baines was still in his prime, Luke Garbutt was designated the next great left back, but a series of underwhelming performances with the Blues and then out on loan led to him fizzling out, only leaving the club this last summer at a ripe old age of 27 for Blackpool in the third tier. Everton had to resort to signing a 25-year-old Lucas Digne to secure the position.

And now with Coleman entering his twilight years, much expectation was on Kenny to take the mantle of right back and the 23-year-old has not been able to make the position his own.

Jonjoe Kenny defensive and offensive stats

Make no mistake, Kenny is a perfectly serviceable right back who can be useful when bolstering a lead late on, but the fact that he excels neither in the attacking aspect nor the defending side of things makes him expendable.

Ancelotti’s current system of play demands his fullbacks go high up the pitch to provide width and deliver dangerous passes into the box, something Digne is one of the best in the league at. The Academy graduate is not that, and is not the strong, solid presence that Holgate is. A loan spell in Germany with Schalke 04 looked to have done him good, but he has just the one league start this season, against Newcastle when he was yanked late as the Blues chased the game late on.

Everton were unable or not interested in sending Kenny out on loan again at the beginning of this season, but recent chatter has it that Brands is shopping the youngster in January. Burnley manager Sean Dyche apparently is a fan of the player, and the Clarets might yet make a move for Kenny this month.

Mason Holgate - Solves other needs elsewhere

The 24-year-old has blossomed over the last couple of years to become Everton’s future in the middle for years to come. He has been used as a conventional right back to begin his career, did well out on loan at the position and even now when Ancelotti goes with his four centrehalf backline Holgate is the automatic right back of choice.

Holgate’s versatility and ability to play defensive midfielder is another thing to keep in mind even though Ancelotti has shown hesitation in playing him there, choosing to use Tom Davies, Andre Gomes and even Gyfi Sigurdsson in the role. Either way, the signing from Barnsley is not the long-term answer for right back.

Which then brings us to two exciting right backs who are currently plying their trades elsewhere, and the Blues have both been linked with.

Sheffield United v Everton - Premier League Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Max Aarons - Unlimited potential lurking

The Norwich City fullback definitely ticks the box when you talk of exciting prospects. Aarons has already been linked with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and a number of English clubs as well, and will not come cheap with his current contract with the Canaries going through till 2024.

For those who have not watched much of the 21-year-old, he has the right build for a fullback - just a shade under six feet tall and lightning quick. He is first and foremost a good defender, but excels in making runs out wide, creating openings up and down the wing. Aarons is very comfortable playing out of the back like Ancelotti has the Blues doing now, and was successful doing so at a Norwich side that ended up going back down last season.

Aarons remains good friends with Everton defender Ben Godfrey who has been a hit on Merseyside already after joining this last summer. Interestingly, all the Godfrey naysayers who lamented signing a defender from one of the worst teams defensively in the top tier have all disappeared now, but there has already been some dissent around signing Aarons too on the same grounds. The thing to remember is that under Daniel Farke’s attacking philosophy, team defending always came second and often Aarons was left on his own with Emiliano Buendia not providing the best defensive cover for him.

The youngster’s pace and work rate are unquestionable however, and a season or two of learning from Coleman will go a long way towards improving his ability. Plus, having Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan in front of him is light years ahead than the duo of Tom Trybull and Alexander Tettey.

Everton are among a host of clubs including Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and West Ham United who are expected to make a move for Aarons in this January transfer window, with the number of £30 million being thrown about. Godfrey cost just a bit less than that and it would not be unreasonable to expect that the Toffees could shell that amount out again especially if they are able to sell Kenny this winter.

With Norwich City leading the Championship and strong candidates to make a quick return to the top flight, signing Aarons and sending him back on loan to the Canaries has also been mooted, which could work out for the Blues too. He has 1 goals and 3 assists this season in the Championship, and made 36 Premier League appearances last season, picking up two assists. Not quite numbers that will blow anyone out of the water, but the potential is there.

Mehmet Zeki Çelik - The cheaper, equally good option?

Enter Zeki Celik, the 23-year-old who just two years ago was plying his trade for Istanbulspor in the Turkish second division. Signed for a meagre €2 million by LOSC Lille thanks to an excellent scouting system in place, he has quickly become a household name among Ligue 1 fans for his attacking sense and strong defending ability. Cardiff City tried to sign him up before his star really began to shine bright, and has since been linked with Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and Atalanta as well.

Lille play an aggressive system where the fullbacks are encouraged to attack, but they press high up the pitch too looking to recover the ball as quickly as possible when they lose it. This has brought out the best in Celik who has the build to harangue opponents. The Turkish player is among the top players in the league for ball recoveries in the final third, which is an astonishing stat for a fullback. He has also shown some versatility in being used further up the pitch as a wingback slash wide midfielder when playing three centrehalves, something that Ancelotti will find quite useful.

Depending on whether you trust the source or not, Everton have been keeping tabs on the Turkey international who has already picked up 18 international caps, playing with the Blues’ Cenk Tosun. Apparently a summer bid was rejected but now Everton have made a second offer for the player this month who has been valued at about £18 million and the French club in dire financial straits. Celik has another two years left on his current deal, but despite Lille sitting in third place in the league just a point off leaders Lyon and a big Europa League knockout round clash against Ajax Amsterdam coming up, they will be willing to sell the player to solve their money problems.

He has made 83 appearances already for Lille in all competitions including the Champions League last season, picking up three goals and ten assists in that span. A rare injury - an ankle ailment - saw him miss six games between November and December, but interestingly he has been held out of LOSC’s last two games, possibly due to a pending transfer negotiation?

For comparison’s sake, Djibril Sidibe - who Everton had on loan last season, and passed on the option to sign permanently relatively cheaply - had 11 goals and 7 assists in 119 games when he played for Lille, and managed 6 goals and 22 assists in 125 games for AS Monaco. Celik does have the edge on the Frenchman in age though, being a whole five years younger than him.

Here’s a comprehensive look at a number of attacking and defensive stats for all four fullbacks in play from last season, league performances only. An outright ‘winner’ doesn’t clearly emerge from the mix.

Coleman, Kenny, Aarons, Celik - 2019-20 season compared
Squawka Comparison Matrix

Celik is involved a lot more in buildup play, but all three have better crossing accuracy than Coleman which will be a big relief to Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Kenny appears to be better at clearances, but that is due to his limitations on the ball while both Celik and Aarons look to have similar numbers in interceptions. Celik shows a big weakness in blocks, but is that due to being caught out of position further upfield? Aarons definitely shoots more while Kenny’s attacking instincts have been curbed when not playing in the more open Bundesliga.

What it could come down to for Everton might be exactly how much they have to spend in the January transfer window, and whether it will all be shelled out for the right back of the future. Also, will Kenny depart on a loan this January, or can the Toffees sell him outright? From a pure potential perspective, Aarons seems to be the right play though he could cost nearly double of what Celik will come for. Both should be ready to play right away, which might be something preying on Brands’ and Ancelotti’s minds too.