We continue our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. Next up: the centre-halves.
Last season’s report card for the centre-backs saw the unit earn a B-, so there undoubtedly was room for improvement ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.
In October, the Toffees signed a player who looks to be a pillar of the squad moving forward, but more on him later. The Blues conceded 1.26 goals per game, which was an improvement from the prior season’s mark of 1.47. Overall, the position group took a step forward in one of the most bizarre seasons in recent memory, doing enough to earn a collective B+.
How did they get on? Let’s take a look:
Appearances - 29, Goals - 3, Assists - 0, Yellow Cards - 2, Red Cards - 0, 90.4% pass completion
Yerry Mina is a capable central defender, albeit one with a limited skill set. The Colombian ranked in the 24th percentile in pressures per 90 (7.17), 25th in tackles (1.18) and 4th in interceptions (0.63). Towering at 6-foot-5, what Mina lacks in lateral quickness he makes up for in the air. The 26-year-old made 5.94 clearances (76th percentile) and won 3.25 aerials (79th percentile) per 90 this season. He also completed 90-percent of his passes, illustrating his prowess and comfort with the ball at his feet.
Despite some defensive limitations, Mina contributed two headed goals this season, provided 1.73 blocks per game and logged his highest total of minutes played on Merseyside since his arrival from Barcelona in 2018. His first two seasons in Liverpool raised eyebrows regarding his longevity in the league, but this season was a marked improvement. Mina did struggle with injury — he missed 27 total fixtures — but was a reliable presence in front of net when he played — he only committed one error which led to a goal.
The only knock — and it’s a familiar one — on Mina is that his abilities overlap with those of Michael Keane, which compounds their weaknesses, mainly their lack of pace. He had a fine season but is the team’s third-best centre-half.
Grade - B
Appearances - 41, Goals - 4, Assists - 2, Yellow Cards - 4, Red Cards - 0, 3.93 aerials won per 90
Can a player ‘break out’ at age 28? Michale Keane sure can. The former Claret set career bests in goals (four), two of which came from headed shots, and league minutes (2,991). His 2.27 blocks (93rd percentile), 6.27 clearances (85) and 3.93 aerials (94) per 90 mostly validated the 30-million pound check Everton wrote to acquire his services from Burnley in 2017. The 28-year-old finally seemed to put the pieces together in the Northwest as he paced the squad in minutes played. The Englishman also missed just five matches in a season during which injuries hammered the Toffees.
Composed with the ball at his feet, Keane matched a career-best two assists this year. He completed 88.8-percent of his overall passes, 94.9-percent of his medium-range looks and 74.2-percent of long-range passes. Keane’s knack for launching diagonal balls over the top of defences led to 21 live-ball passes that led to a shot attempt, so he was unfortunate to pick up only two helpers.
Keane’s weaknesses lie in pressures, tackles and interceptions, making him and Mina an awkward pairing. On his own, though, Keane was one of Carlo Ancelotti’s first names on the team sheet, and it shouldn't be any different with the new manager.
Grade - B+
Appearances - 31, Goals - 1, Assists - 0, Yellow Cards - 9, Red Cards - 0, 2.49 tackles per 90
On paper, Holgate looks like a much more natural fit alongside Keane or Mina in the heart of Everton’s defence. The youth academy graduate’s 12.05 pressures, 2.49 tackles and 1.66 interceptions per 90 paint the picture of a player willing to attack the ball and disrupt play while his partner sits back in a more conservative approach. In reality, the 24-year-old looked out of control at times this season, earning nine yellow cards — almost half as many as last season.
One explanation for a rise in bookings can be additional minutes, as more time on the field may lead to an increase in fouls committed. That said, Holgate played just 233 more minutes than last season but nearly doubled the amount of yellow cards he received. His long-ball passing isn't as polished as Keane’s or Mina’s, but his skill set is more optimal to play next to a slower partner. He also showed that he was capable of at least one horrendous per game, but the downside was that it usually led to a goal against.
He’s still just 24, and I did just give credit to a 28-year-old Keane, so there’s still time with Holgate.
Grade - C
Appearances - 36, Goals - 0, Assists - 2, Yellow Cards - 5, Red Cards - 0, 2.52 blocks per 90
One season isn't enough to accurately judge whether a player was a success or a failure, but man, did Godfrey have an impressive first year at Goodison. Relegated with Norwich last year, Godfrey spent the first three fixtures this season in the Championship but was signed by the Toffees in October to provide defensive cover and to be a long-term defensive solution. The 23-year-old proceeded to make his first appearance for the Blues as a substitute shortly thereafter against Liverpool and started his first match a week later at Southampton; he would feature 34 more times for the side.
Capable of playing multiple positions, Godfrey spent time as the right- or left-sided centre-back and as the right or left-back. Positional versatility is vital in the modern game, and Godfrey’s ability to win the ball and sprint 50 yards up the pitch with the ball at his feet is invaluable. Not only can the former Canary provide a lift going forward, his 2.52 blocks per 90 ranked in the 98th percentile.
After impressing for Everton this season — logging the fourth-most minutes of all outfield players, at 23 years old — Godfrey recently received his first cap (June 2nd) and start (June 6) with the Three Lions.
Grade - A-
The Toffees go into the summer with many holes in the roster, and on the touchline, but after being a position loaded with question marks in recent seasons, centre-back is not among the areas of immediate concern.
Ideally, a natural right back is brought in to replace Seamus Coleman, which would allow Godfrey to move into the central pairing with Keane. With a complementary central duo leading the way, Everton’s new bench boss would have Mina and Holgate — two capable defenders — to call upon next season.
With Jarrad Branthwaite back at the club and still 18 years young, Everton realistically could have five centre-halves on the squad to begin the season, so funds should be allocated elsewhere.
However, there does remain a possibility of bringing in a truly elite centre-half who will elevate the quality of the entire backline, which is an effect both Liverpool and Manchester City have seen. While Ancelotti was still here, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly was expected to be that player. With Everton’s new direction, however, it remains to be seen if Marcel Brands thinks this is a priority or not.