Frank Lampard has said in recent press conferences that it is not the right time for his younger players to be coming into an Everton starting lineup in what is clearly now a fight against relegation. He has shown he is looking for the experienced men in his squad to get the results we require to achieve safety.
It’s a theory that few ordinarily would argue with but what happens when those experienced men are in poor form, lacking in confidence, lacking in fitness or plain lacking in ability? Where do we go? Do we persist? Marcelo Bielsa’s stubborn refusal to change his tactics saw him lose his job in spite of his underlying popularity with Leeds United fans.
The next two games will be potentially season defining for the Blues. The chance to get to an FA Cup semi final under normal circumstances would be a gloss that we could add to a mid-table league finish but this time even that is seeming like a burden we could probably do without. I think for the home Premier League game against Newcastle United and FA Cup game against Crystal Palace most people would back the idea of going strong with seasoned professionals in the hope that the team would stutter into some kind of form. However there has to be surely a point at which we need an injection from somewhere if we don’t get two wins?
Short of the return of the experience and battling qualities of Yerry Mina and Fabian Delph the question is should we be looking to give a couple of younger players a run and, if so, who?
In attack, casting back to the relegation battle of 1998/99 we brought in Kevin Campbell in the March of that season. A seasoned professional with experience at Arsenal and Nottingham Forest he had surprisingly joined a club in Turkey before problems began to surface with players not being paid and a bizarre, allegedly misunderstood, racist slur from within that club. His experience and goals along with his flourishing partnership with a young homegrown product, Francis Jeffers, saw Everton to safety. It was a good working partnership of an experienced physical player and a young energetic striker. The question might be if Salomon Rondon and perhaps Lewis Dobbin could form a similar spearhead if the form of others in the first team does not improve?
There is potential, Rondon, without being quite as prolific as Campbell, has similar battling qualities and even supporters who question his ability would not question his willingness to put his body on the line. He has also in recent weeks scored twice for Everton’s first team and 3 times for his country Venezuela. Dobbin has similar qualities to Jeffers in that he is fast, sharp and comes alive around the opposition penalty area. He is also bang in form right now at Under 23 level, a bit of an unknown quantity to opposition Premiership teams so why not?
Without getting too carried away as we are very unlikely to bring in more than a few younger players, what about our much criticised defence?
At centre back, 18 years old Reece Welch has come on leaps and bounds this season. Standing around 6’4, rarely beaten in the air, fast along the ground and good recovery vision and tackling, he is also in really good form. Would he really be a worse option than some we have at senior level?
At full back where we have struggled. The manager clearly does not yet have faith in Nathan Patterson. Vitaliy Mykolenko has not yet demonstrated that he is ready physically or mentally — given what is happening in his homeland — for the rigours of a Premier League relegation battle. Seamus Coleman has struggled in recent weeks either through fatigue, lack of support, loss of form or a combination of all of the above. Jonjoe Kenny, after the initial good displays has wavered and is torn between three positions in the team and is also now suspended against Newcastle on Thursday following his sending off against Wolves.
At full back Kyle John we have a 21 year old player (11 days older than Anthony Gordon), so not “a kid”. He has been in great form for the Under 23s at both right back, left back and even on the right of a back three, a little similar to Kenny. He is a competent defender, not frightened to put his foot in and he is certainly productive going forward. Just as importantly he is “positive” and will try to make distance down the line in attack and is a good crosser of the ball.
Realistically there is little chance of them getting minutes unless the unthinkable happens, our fate is sealed and we have a few games left to blood players. Dobbin, Welch, John. All three are in form and full of confidence. Would there be lasting damage if they entered and lost a relegation fight? Personally I think not. The crowd always get behind home grown players initially. They would not be on the backs of more senior players struggling for form as they have been and there might just be a surge of positivity that will help the club to safety.
A final word in the experience versus youth debate. Our outstanding player for most games recently has undoubtedly been our winger Anthony Gordon. He’s just turned 21, plays with pace, passion, heart on his sleeve and the crowd love him. A bit more of that would surely help?