It might have been a long bleak summer in almost every way for the first team, but there is a beacon of hope…
Everton’s under-23s have undergone a serious makeover in 2021 and they enjoyed a 100% winning record during pre-season, including some eye-catching performances.
But what can we expect from David Unsworth’s side ahead of the new Premier League 2 season which kicks off against Blackburn Rovers on Monday 16th August?
Last summer, I was banging on about the fact that Everton’s under-23 squad was being misused. There were too many “veterans” in the team that were getting stuck playing Premier League 2 football for multiple seasons, leading to stagnation for those individual players, while blocking the route into Everton’s development squad for new generations.
At some point last season, the club also recognised this and started refreshing the squad. For some context, for the under-23s first game of the 2020/21 season (a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool), Everton’s side had an average age of 20, with five players who were 21 or older and not a single player under 18. For the final game of the season (a 4-0 win over Southampton), the average age had dropped to just 18, with not a single player aged 21 or over playing.
It’s unsurprising then, that Everton have cut ties with several under-23 “veterans” this summer, including Beni Baningime, Con Ouzounidis, Callum Connolly, Dennis Adeniran and Matthew Pennington. Bobby Carroll and Nicholas Defreitas-Hansen have also been released, while in the only real piece of bad news this summer, 17-year-old wonderkid Thierry Small has absconded from the Blues in search of apparent first-team football at a bigger club. Small could be a painful long-term loss if he ends up fulfilling his potential.
⚽️A good end to end game today with Everton U23's just edging it 2-1.— Southport Football Club (@southport_fc) August 7, 2021
Goal Action ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/cZMB14prRp
Unlike in previous years, David Unsworth has been able to open the check book in order to attract promising young players to the club. Instead, several of last season’s under-18 squad will be bolstering the new-look under-23s after getting a chance to impress (which they certainly did) at the end of last season.
Players looking to establish themselves in the under-23 setup this season include Harry Hagan, MacKenzie Hunt, Lewis Warrington, Stanley Mills, Thomas Cannon, Charlie Whittaker, Sean McAllister and Lewis Dobbin.
Players to Watch
One name that has been on the lips of many Evertonians this summer is Lewis Dobbin. The young 18-year-old striker bagging a remarkable hat-trick of hat-tricks in pre-season fixtures. The pacey striker’s fine performances for David Unsworth also saw him earn a late cameo in Everton’s final pre-season game at Old Trafford. He’ll be a big player for Unsworth this season and could well continue to make the first-team bench, with Everton looking a bit light up top.
Charlie Whittaker and Harry Tyrer have also caught the eye while featuring for the first-team during pre-season and this will likely be a massive season for their development. Hopefully we’ll see them really kick on and become big players in Premier League 2 this year.
There is also a more familiar name that looks like he might start the season with the under-23s before potentially heading out on loan…
Jarrad Branthwaite had a mixed loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in the second half of last season, but saw his season end early due to an ankle injury. However, he featured in the under-23s final pre-season game and will likely continue to build his fitness with Unsworth’s side for at least the rest of August before taking in another loan spell. This lad has massive potential and could well be a first-team star in future.