The prospect of replacing Goodison Park icon Leighton Baines after ten plus years of service was surely a daunting one for Marcel Brands and Everton football club alike. However, the Director of Football hit the jackpot at the first try as Lucas Digne has become a player that many Evertonians would name as one of the first to go on the team sheet week in, week out. Since completing an £18 million deal to sign for the Blues from Barcelona in 2018, Digne has cemented himself as a firm fan favourite and is established as one of the most effective full backs in the Premier League in recent years.
It was imperative that Everton got the recruitment of Baines’ replacement correct as he had been such an integral part of our team for such a long time. Arguably the best left back in England, if not Europe for a short period of time, Baines finds himself at the top of the assist charts for defenders during the Premier League era, with a total of 53. He was also a stalwart of the team’s tighter defences during the David Moyes era, so it was essential that his replacement was just as competent on both sides of the pitch.
At the time of Digne’s signing, Baines was coming towards the end of his career. With a series of niggling injuries and time being against him, it was the ideal time to bring in his successor, allowing Baines to transition into a back up option, as well as providing invaluable tutelage and competition for the new boy.
In his debut season, the Frenchman slotted into the team straight away and was a seamless replacement for Baines, starting 33 games and coming on as a sub twice in the league, reducing Baines’ involvement to just 5 league starts. Although these numbers were expected in regards to Digne’s involvement throughout the 2018/19 season, it was no mean feat and goes a long way to showing how quickly he settled in on Merseyside and how imperative he is to the squad.
It did not take Digne long to make his mark in the royal blue, with his first goal coming in the dying moments of a match against Watford, where he scored a luscious free kick to salvage a point for Marco Silva’s men. He went on to triple his goal tally for the season, just over two weeks later, with two great strikes in a 5-1 win against Burnley at Turf Moor on Boxing Day. His final goal of the 2018/19 season and last league goal for Everton to date, came in a 4-0 thumping of Manchester United at Goodison Park.
However, since his first season, Digne has only got himself on the scoresheet once with a thunderous free kick in the Carabao Cup against Lincoln. This begs the question, why has Digne’s attacking output slowed down in recent times?
Since joining the Toffees, Digne has played under three different permanent managers, all with different playing styles. His most successful season in terms of attacking output came under Marco Silva where he amassed four league goals, and four assists. However, in the two seasons that followed, although his goal output has fallen to zero in the league for both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons, he managed to record 7 league assists in both of the seasons.
He started the 2020/21 season in fine form under Carlo Ancelotti, as the Blues won their opening seven fixtures in all competitions. Digne set up Dominic Calvert-Lewin with a peach of a cross to set up an opening day win away at Spurs, the same pair linked up to score the equaliser in the Merseyside Derby a few weeks later, and Digne provided two assists in six minutes in an away win against Fulham. However, as Everton’s season began to dwindle with the turn of the new year, with inconsistency ruining the chance for any potential success, Digne only recorded 3 assists in 2021.
There were times during Carlo Ancelotti’s reign that Evertonians were crying out for a bit of creativity and excitement from the boys in blue. After a blistering start to the 2020/21 season, I think it is fair to say that a few Everton fans, myself included, got a bit carried away, and we were brought back down to earth very quickly. However, Digne signed a contract extension in February 2021 which shows great promise that a player of his ilk still wants to commit to the club, even after three years without any real success. It is players like Digne, who have the quality, but also understand the size of the club and appreciate the love he gets from the fans that will help us to move onto the next level and start challenging for trophies.
When looking into the fullback’s stats, there is evidence of his diminishing attacking impetus within the team. Despite seeing a minimal increase in his second season in terms of xG (expected goals), with a figure of 1.26 compared to 1.20 in his first season, this figure decreased dramatically to 0.46 in his third season in 2020/21. As I have previously mentioned, Digne has not scored a league goal for Everton since his first season, with these stats suggesting that he has not necessarily been unlucky in this area and it is something that the team would benefit from highly if he was to improve upon these numbers. His shots per 90 over the last four seasons also tell an interesting tale - 1.03, 0.86, 0.44 and now 1.0 this season.
This trend has also been replicated in terms of xA (expected assists), which has decreased year-on-year since he signed. It is important to state that despite this downward trend, Digne is still performing well above his career average. His lowest xA stat for a full season for Everton came in at 5.96 in the 2020/21 season, which he actually out-performed as he clocked 7 assists in the league, whereas his highest xA stat before he signed for Everton was when he played for Roma on loan in the 2015/16 season, where he amassed 3 assists throughout the season.
However, his expected assists per 90 (xA/90) has remained very constant throughout his three full seasons - 0.19, 0.18 and 0.18, but early on this season that has dropped to only 0.09. The fact that this stat is continuing to decline is a worry, as a footballer with the ability that Digne has should be providing a much greater threat in the final third, especially with a striker with the heading ability of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
|2018-2019||25||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||8th||35||33||2,965||32.9||4||4||5||1||0.12||0.12||0.24||0.12||0.24||0.03||0.19||0.22||0.03||0.22||Matches|
|2019-2020||26||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||12th||35||35||3,030||33.7||0||7||6||0||0.00||0.21||0.21||0.00||0.21||0.04||0.18||0.22||0.04||0.22||Matches|
|2020-2021||27||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||10th||30||30||2,681||29.8||0||7||2||1||0.00||0.23||0.23||0.00||0.23||0.02||0.18||0.20||0.02||0.20||Matches|
|2021-2022||28||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||6th||3||3||270||3.0||0||0||1||0||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.04||0.09||0.12||0.04||0.12||Matches|
Although there is clear evidence that Digne’s attacking output has somewhat diminished, it is important to acknowledge that his role has changed significantly since he signed, with different managers implementing different play styles. When Digne first signed, Marco Silva had also acquired Bernard’s services and there were some early signs of a potential Baines/Pienaar element to their partnership, one that sadly did not come to fruition. However, Digne has grown to become a more senior figure within the starting eleven and the squad as a whole, evident from the fact he has captained the team on numerous occasions.
As he enters his fourth year as a blue, Digne finds himself under the guidance of new manager Rafa Benítez. Early signs showcase that Everton are going to be playing a lot quicker this season, with an emphasis on counter attacking football and getting balls into the box, trying to use Dominic Calvert-Lewin and new signing Salomón Rondón to their strengths. However, with Rafa bringing in two ‘traditional’ wingers during the transfer window, something Everton have lacked for a considerable amount of time, there will be less pressure on Digne to get forward, which could potentially lead to another season with a decrease in both goals and assists.
The emphasis on using our wingers as our main attacking output, as well as Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré showing more attacking intent throughout the first few games of the season, indicates that Digne’s main priority this season will be to contribute towards shoring up the defence. Hopefully as the team become more at ease with the way Rafa wants to play, the team will become more defensively solid and hopefully we can build on our first clean sheet of the season against Brighton, potentially allowing Digne a little bit more attacking freedom in the near future.
|2018-2019||25||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||8th||2053||1510||543||83||0||357||85||158||87||1467||6||48||62||73||Matches|
|2019-2020||26||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||12th||1946||1407||539||64||3||294||73||153||108||1353||6||33||35||90||Matches|
|2020-2021||27||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||10th||1690||1334||356||63||0||224||56||132||44||1225||9||40||48||66||Matches|
|2021-2022||28||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||6th||127||79||48||4||0||26||6||4||15||90||0||2||4||4||Matches|
Along with this, with the crossing ability Digne has showcased in spurts throughout his Everton career so far, he is bound to be able to supply Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Rondón with numerous chances throughout the season, along with towering defenders Yerry Mina and Michael Keane.
The absence of James Rodriguez and Gylfi Sigurdsson from the starting lineups also give Digne the ability to return to sole set-piece duty and hopefully, he can replicate some of the form he showed in the 2018/19 season in this regard. His ability from dead ball situations has been nothing short of dreadful at the start of this season, with the majority of his corner kicks being woeful. Granted there has only been three league games so far, but Digne’s xG stands at 0.12, with his xA slightly higher at 0.27.
|2018-2019||25||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||8th||32.9||100||3.04||54||37||2||4||0||3||Matches|
|2019-2020||26||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||12th||33.7||104||3.09||58||37||2||3||3||1||Matches|
|2020-2021||27||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||10th||29.8||70||2.35||49||17||0||2||2||0||Matches|
|2021-2022||28||Everton||eng ENG||1. Premier League||6th||3.0||10||3.33||8||2||0||0||0||0||Matches|
The fullback’s shot creating actions per 90 minutes is up as a result of having added responsibility for taking all setpieces - 3.04, 3.09, 2.35 and 3.33 this season. In just three league games, he has already delivered eight live-ball passes that resulted in a shot, when his highest total for an entire season for the Toffees was 58 in 2019/20.
There is plenty to be excited about by the way Everton have started this season. We have some superb individual players, with Digne being arguably the pick of the bunch. Hopefully, Rafa’s tactics will allow Digne to re-find his best form, while continuing to be an integral leadership figure in the squad.