We continue our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. Next up: the full-backs.
Appearances - 36, Goals - 0, Assists - 7, Yellow Cards - 2, Red Cards - 1,
One of the few areas of the pitch where Everton possess a player of genuine quality at the peak of his powers, Lucas Digne once again had a quietly effective season in royal blue.
The France international was one of the first names on the team sheet when fit, his season only disrupted by a one-match ban for a harsh red card at Southampton and an eight-game absence over Christmas with a ankle injury – though even then he returned way ahead of schedule.
With the Toffees’ midfield ponderous and the right-side of the pitch increasingly ineffective, there was often an over-reliance on Digne from an attacking perspective.
He delivered in that respect, with his seven assists bettered only by James Rodriguez and Gyfli Sigurdsson. He also made more chances (46) than any other player, with no-one creating more big chances (11). He also put in the most crosses by a distance.
Defensively only Allan put in more tackles, while only Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Michael Keane won more aerial duels, demonstrating Digne’s value at either end of the pitch.
News therefore of his new long-term contract in February is a considerable boost as we head into a summer of uncertainty.
Digne must go down as one of Marcel Brands’ best signings – with his ability and attitude a template by which the club should base their future transfer policy.
Grade - A
Appearances - 31, Goals - 0, Assists - 2, Yellow Cards - 0, Red Cards - 0.
Seamus Coleman’s professionalism and leadership has never been in doubt, but his skills as a footballer were once again on the wane during the 2020-21 campaign.
His average tackles per game, interceptions and clearances were the lowest among all those who played full-back or wing-back, including Ben Godfrey. While offensively his three assists reflects his fading attacking threat.
At 32 and having come back from a potentially career-ending injury, that is to be expected, but his failure to regularly match Lucas Digne’s output on the opposite flank meant the opposition could double up on the Frenchman and pretty much shut down the Toffees’ attacking threat.
Though many disagree, I still feel there is a place for Coleman in the squad. And as I said at the start, his professionalism and commitment to the shirt is without question. But one of the first signings Marcel Brands makes this summer simply has to be an attacking right-back, allowing Coleman to operate as a reliable back up.
Appearances - 6, Goals - 0, Assists - 1, Yellow Cards - 1, Red Cards - 0.
Signed on a free transfer and mainly for the U23s, it is little surprise we only saw fleeting glimpses of Niels Nkounkou during the 2020-21 season.
Three of his six senior appearances came in the Carabao Cup, where he looked an attacking threat down the left, providing an assist in the 5-2 win at Fleetwood.
However, he struggled to make an impact on his Premier League debut at Newcastle and made just two substitute appearances after that, with Ben Godfrey’s versatility meaning he deputised when Lucas Digne was out of the side.
It is hard therefore to truly judge Nkounkou’s ability and potential after so few minutes. But after a year to settle in and hopefully a more ‘normal’ season to come in terms of scheduling and supporters in the stands, we should hopefully be able to better judge his long-term Everton future in 12 months’ time.
Grade - C
A right-back to replace Seamus Coleman is a must this summer, with links to PSV’s Denzel Dumfries encouraging (though I’d rather he stop drawing attention to himself by doing so well for the Netherlands at the Euros!). Coleman would then be able to operate as back-up and dressing room leader. Lucas Digne’s position on the left is secure and Ben Godfrey is likely to be an emergency back up when he is out of the side. If so, then what of Nkounkou? A six-month loan at the start of the season may be beneficial to gain some much needed experience.
Though given we don’t even yet know who is going to be managing the club next season, every player is likely to be given a chance to impress before any move is sanctioned.