On Thursday, Everton loaned out central defender Jarrad Branthwaite to Championship side Blackburn Rovers for the rest of the season.
Branthwaite, 18, joined the Blues from Carlisle United for £1 million in January 2020, with only 14 senior appearances to his name at the time.
He has since featured five times for Everton’s first team, and will now spend the rest of this campaign helping Blackburn, currently 11th in the Championship, battle for a play-off place.
Where does it leave Everton?
Hopefully with an even better prospect when he returns to Goodison Park. Branthwaite has looked an exceptional talent on the few occasions he’s been fielded by Carlo Ancelotti, a man who clearly has a great deal of faith in the youngster.
What will be interesting, though, is whether Ancelotti will persist with a back four entirely comprised of natural centre-halves, now that Lucas Digne is fit again and that his only other recognised central defender, Branthwaite, is out on loan.
Digne played on the left wing ahead of Ben Godfrey at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday, with Everton’s resolute back line holding firm on multiple occasions in helping them secure a vital 2-1 win.
Branthwaite’s loan and Digne’s return doesn’t have to spell the end of this approach - it’s yiedled four wins since December, and they say don’t fix what isn’t broke.
But equally, you wonder whether it will be long before we see Digne back in his natural habitat at left-back, given how irrepressible he can be from that position, and given that there is no other central defensive cover with Branthwaite away.
Where does it leave Branthwaite?
Everton have had mixed results with loaning their best young talents to lower-league clubs, but on paper the move to Blackburn looks a sensible club to join and the logical next step in his development.
Take Tosin Adarabioyo, for instance, who played 35 times for Rovers on loan from Manchester City last term before moving to Fulham, where he has proved an instant success and been at the heart of their drastic defensive improvements.
Branthwaite enjoyed a taste of the Premier League in last season’s dead-rubbers, including the 1-0 win at Sheffield United in July, when he was outstanding and looked supremely confident on the ball. Now, being in the thick of a play-off race, where there is probably more at stake, should stand him in good stead.
It’s a testament to how highly Rovers manager Tony Mowbray rates him that he was so keen to have Branthwaite signed so that he could be eligible for their game against Stoke City today.
So, despite Blackburn having established, proven centre-halves like Darragh Lenihan and Daniel Ayala, Branthwaite looks set to go straight into the heat of the battle.
How he takes to such an unforgiving league as the Championship will make for fascinating viewing. His early outings in Everton colours would at least suggest he has all the tools to shine.