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Young Blues to keep an eye on in pre-season

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Which Everton prospects could make the step up this summer

Everton v Rotherham United - FA Cup Third Round
Anthony Gordon
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

With the European Championships and Copa America still ongoing while many Everton players have now returned to pre-season training, an opportunity awaits…

That’s because key players like Lucas Digne, Jordan Pickford, Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Dominic Calvert-Lewin won’t be rocking up at Finch Farm any time soon, nor are they likely to feature in any of Everton early pre-season games (assuming Everton do arrange some more local friendlies before jetting off to the US at the end of July).

That means Everton are going to have some seriously big gaps in their squad in July. And for a young player looking to show that he belongs in the first-team setup, these are opportunities they simply must take.

So, who are the eight young players to keep an eye on this summer?

Joao Virginia + Harry Tyrer - GK

With Pickford busy repelling all footballs from England’s net, Rafa Benitez will be without a senior goalkeeper to call upon probably until potentially August.

That leaves 21-year-old Joao Virginia as Everton’s oldest goalkeeper.

He certainly impressed when deputising against Manchester City last season and while he won’t be replacing Pickford between the sticks at the start of the season, he can make a case that Everton don’t need to sign another back-up goalkeeper (unless the Blues want to send the Portuguese out on loan).

Next in line for Everton’s number one shirt is 19-year-old Harry Tyrer who has impressed at under-23 level for the past 18 months – even making a good impression in a 2-0 win over Preston last pre-season.

Again, he’s not going to come in and take Pickford’s spot, but like Virginia, he needs to show that he’s a safe pair of hands that Everton aren’t afraid to look to if needed.

It seems likely that one of Virginia or Tyrer will go out on loan next season, with the other playing back-up (along with a new goalkeeper) to Pickford. Time to make their cases.

Niels Nkounkou + Thierry Small – LB

Lucas Digne’s Euro 2020 campaign ended early through injury before France crashed out in surprising fashion against Switzerland. It’s not clear when he’ll be back at Finch Farm – and indeed whether he’ll be fit to return to action immediately – but it provides another big opportunity to Everton’s two bright left-back prospects: Niels Nkounkou and Thierry Small.

Nkounkou made a big impression upon Evertonians with his dynamic displays in the League Cup at the start of last season and made his league debut in a difficult defeat to Newcastle not long after. Unfortunately, that was essentially the end of Nkounkou’s season with Carlo ultimately turning to Ben Godfrey for a more solid pair of hands.

But Nkounkou remains a player with massive potential and he’ll be given a chance to impress the new manager in pre-season.

16-year-old Thierry Small, meanwhile, is the most eye-catching player to be coming through the academy of late and has been banging in the goals up to under-23 level and, of course, even became Everton’s youngest ever player with a cameo appearance in the FA Cup this season.

Neither Small nor Nkounkou can force Lucas Digne out of the Everton team for the foreseeable, but Everton need a trusted back-up left back they can turn to. That could be Nkounkou once again, although he may be better off going on loan this season. So, can Thierry Small catch Benitez’ eye and show that he can be a capable deputy in order to allow Nkounkou to go off and develop elsewhere for a season?

In terms of young talent, Everton are truly blessed at left-back.

Anthony Gordon – RW/LW

At the top of many Evertonians’ wish lists this summer is a right winger.

But could the answer already be in the club’s ranks?

20-year-old Gordon is an extremely technical and exciting player on his day, but after a limp loan spell at Preston last season, he needs to show that he is capable of imposing his will on games.

Regardless of how Gordon performs, Everton will likely sign at least one wide player this summer, but that doesn’t mean that Anthony Gordon can’t become a legitimate contender for a first-team place come the start of the season – especially with Richarlison set to missing the start of the season should he go to the Olympics with Brazil.

This is an absolutely massive pre-season for Anthony Gordon.

Nathan Broadhead – LW/ST

One contract renewal that raised a few eyebrows over the summer was the one given to 23-year-old Nathan Broadhead.

And, on the face of it, it does seem bizarre that a 23-year-old who has featured in a total of 10 minutes of action for Everton’s first team should have his contract extended by another two years.

Ultimately, it remains unlikely that Broadhead will become a first-team player, but this summer is a shop window for him and the chance to get a good loan spell setup for next season.

Broadhead is a very capable winger (who also played up front from David Unsworth’s u-23s last season) and with the Blues light on wide options, he’ll surely get a good run out in pre-season.

If he sets the world alight he could even be a contender to replace Richarlison at the start of the season. What is more likely, though, is that he impresses enough to earn a good loan spell in the Championship and give the Blues something to think about next summer.

Moise Kean – ST

Is his Everton career already over? Maybe.

But don’t assume a move to Paris this summer is a certainty.

After 18 months of COVID, there won’t be a lot of money flying around in the transfer market this summer – especially the type of money Everton would want to receive for a 21-year-old who scored 17 goals last season.

It’s a buyers’ market.

Therefore, Everton might be better digging their heels in and keeping Kean on the books for at least one more year.

Plus, with DCL still several weeks away from returning for the Blues, the onus is on Moise Kean to show that he can lead the Everton line - and that he would be happy to do so.

Ellis Simms - ST

10 goals in 24 games at League One Blackpool last season showed that 20-year-old Ellis Simms is likely to have a good career in the game.

He’s got a long way to go if he wants to reach the Premier League, but this summer will be a massive opportunity for him to show that he has the potential to do so.

He’ll only have Moise Kean standing in his way during July, so Simms needs to use the time to make an impression on Benitez during that time.

It seems most likely that he’ll head to the Championship on loan next season, but a big pre-season could see him looked at as a real option from the bench for the Blues.