Stats: 20/21 Everton Fullbacks
While the four players listed above are natural fullbacks, Carlo Ancelotti also utilized Ben Godfrey, Fabian Delph and Alex Iwobi out wide. The former boss seemed to tweak his XI weekly, but if Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman were healthy, the Italian normally opted for a 4–3–3.
Fullback arguably was Everton’s thinnest position last year, maybe outside of striker, and it showed when the first-choice defenders were injured — Digne was out for 10 fixtures, while Coleman lost 15. When either missed any time, Ancelotti tried a plethora of permutations to cover for the lack of depth on the wings, with the resultant lack of offensive output.
Godfrey was the most frequent stand-in. As one of four center-backs, Godfrey was able to earn minutes on the wing; he was too good last season not to play. And while you never want to see injuries, Godfrey certainly capitalized on open minutes. The young Englishman spent six games at right back, and eleven as a left back. He also operated as a wingback for a single match.
The other two players to see time as a fullback or wingback were Fabian Delph (fullback: two, wingback: two) and Alex Iwobi (fullback: one, wingback: five). Both experienced varying degrees of success as defenders, but neither helped stop the graying of Evertonians who fretted over the lack of depth on the outside.
The undisputed king of fullbacks at Goodison, Digne finished in the top-20 for assists among outfield players last season, providing more helpers than Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Ben Chilwell and John McGinn. Since signing for the Toffees in the summer of 2018, the 28-year-old has amassed 112 appearances, 9,724 minutes, five goals and 20 assists. When fit, he sits on his throne without a challenger in sight. After suffering a thigh injury at the Euros this summer, the former PSG and Barcelona man has been back on the pitch during the preseason and should be ready for Saturday’s opener against Southampton.
There are many constants in the world: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Everton fans will experience heartbreak at least twice by the end of August and Seamus Coleman will enter the season as the team’s starting right back. The skipper is entering his 13th season with the Blues and has been a mainstay on the right side since the 2010/11 campaign. A hamstring bug cost him a good chunk of last season, and at 32, the Irishman isn't getting any younger. A dutiful servant to the Toffees and current club captain, Coleman is still a serviceable fullback, but an aging player with a lengthy injury history means that he will miss games, and Everton might not have the necessary depth when that happens.
With Lucas Digne patrolling the left flank, Nkounku is more of a long-term depth piece. Last season, the youngster made 10 appearances for the Toffees: EFL Cup: three, EPL: two, FA Cup: one, PL 2 - Div. I: four. And while his stats don’t exactly jump off the page — one assist, three shots on goal — the eye test is much more revelatory when evaluating Nkounkou’s contributions. He has good pop on the wing, is a tenacious defender and loves to carry the ball up the field. If Digne pursues a big-money move elsewhere, Nkounkou should be able to contribute at the highest level. Oh, and he’s only 20 years old, so the question will remain if he can actually defend.
There’s not much to say here. A once-heralded prospect, Kenny was shipped off to Celtic after eight games last season. The Englishman failed to convince the previous regime that he was Coleman’s long-term successor, and I don’t see that changing during the Benitez era, especially not based on how miserably he performed in Scotland.
Fans and the club will be disappointed to hear that youngster Thierry Small decided to walk before signing a full professional contract with the club. There has been interest in him from Manchester United and possibly another Premier League side, and the Toffees will be due some compensation for the Academy product when he signs a deal.
State of the Position
After failing to address the ongoing dearth of fullbacks on the roster this offseason, Rafa Benitez will need to pray for the sustained health of both Digne and Coleman (good luck with that). Relying on two players who have struggled with fitness in recent seasons seems like a recipe for disaster, mainly because there aren’t many other options on defense. Godfrey is the most capable replacement, but he might be needed as cover at center-half.
Then there’s the duo of Delph and Iwobi, but in games when either or both were operating as a fullback or wingback, Everton went 2–2–4 — not exactly a defensive juggernaut. The top two options should stabilize a stingy defensive unit, but the cupboards are pretty bare after that. The Blues continue to be linked with Denzel Dumfries (update - signed by Inter Milan) and Aurelio Buta, but all of that will be dependent on making some sales first.