Evertonians have been spoiled for years at the fullback position, watching Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman ply their trade up and down their respective wings. The Blues looked to have a succession plan for the leftback position a few years ago bringing in Lucas Digne from Barcelona. Unfortunately, the Frenchman saw himself pushed out of the club by Rafa Benitez and Everton have now replaced him with Ukraine international Vitalii Mykolenko.
It’s the opposite flank that has been a problem for a few transfer windows now. The Blues have been linked with a number of players to take over from club captain Coleman as his legs tired, but none have panned out. Jonjoe Kenny is serviceable as a short-term fill-in, but his limitations have been exposed time and again. It could perhaps be former Director of Football Marcel Brands’ lasting gift to the club that the Blues finally made a move and signed Nathan Patterson — it has been widely reported that both the Scotsman and Mykolenko were recommendations from Brands’ scouting staff. Unforunately, the teenager has struggled with injuries and is yet to make his Premier League debut.
It was not a season to be proud of for the fullback corps, especially so for the last third of the season when Frank Lampard chose to bulk up the backline by going with a back three in a 3-4-3 formation.
Seamus Coleman - Grade: A-
Starts - 34 (all competitions), 1 goal, 1 assist, 4 yellow cards, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.07
The evergreen club captain who signed for the Blues an incredible 13 years ago probably never expected to get as much playing time as he did. He turned 33 in October 2021 and this must surely rank as the most difficult season he has encountered. The support for Coleman continuing in the side is quite deeply divided between those fans who think his best days are gone and those who still value what he brings. My personal opinion is that he is not the player of five or six years ago but on his day he can be magnificent still.
His early season form especially in the home victories over Southampton and Burnley and away to Brighton was really strong. The Irishman had a few below par performances for sure, generally when he was in very good company, notably in the home defeat to Liverpool plus the away defeats at Spurs and Crystal Palace in the league.
The engine that took him careering down Everton’s right flank for so many years is now a little tired but where he lacks in that trademark blistering pace he has developed greater positional sense and leadership qualities in their place. My own belief is that if he is used more sparingly he can still provide healthy competition for his heir apparent Patterson.
He was even deployed as a right sided centre back for several games as the Blues attempted to shore up their backline to stave off the threat of relegation. It is likely he will remain a strong influence on and off the pitch for the last year of his contract, though it is less likely he will make 34 starts and play so many minutes.
Jonjoe Kenny - Grade: B-
Starts - 21 (all competitions) 0 goals, 3 assists, 1 yellow card, 1 2nd yellow (red) card, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.07
In what has turned out to be the last season playing for his beloved Blues, local lad Kenny had a fairly decent season especially under the eye of Frank Lampard whose faith in him clearly raised his game. Often played at left back more than his natural right side of defence, his confidence levels soared. At one point, in the 3-0 home victory over Leeds, he was performing “Cruyff turns” in the left wing position to the amusement of supporters (and himself) and to the bewilderment of Leeds’ highly skilled Raphinha who was twice the victim of Jonjoe’s trickery.
He will be plying his trade next season in the Bundesliga with another team who left it late to avoid relegation from the top flight, Hertha Berlin. He will take with him the best wishes of all Evertonians.
Vitalii Mykolenko - Grade: A-
Starts - 16 (all competitions), 1 goal, 0 assists, 1 yellow card, PL xG+xA/90 - 0.09
A Rafa Benitez signing, not speaking great English, never having played in the Premier League, playing in a poor team under a manager about to be fired and with his homeland about to go to war with Russia. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ll be honest with you, having played left back as an amateur for more years than was good for me, my first impression of him was not good. Although Mykolenko clearly had a nice left foot, his positional awareness, defensive marking and ability to snuff out crosses was shockingly bad.
With all the side issues that could have affected a young man with one eye on what was happening to his friends and family it is to his enormous credit that he not only got his head down to improve he actually cemented his place in the team. He contributed very effectively going forward and massively improved his defending and scored one of the goals of the season. His baptism in the league did remind me of that endured by club stalwart Coleman who had a miserable first start for the club in a heavy defeat to Benfica. Just look at what happened to him!
Next season should be one of consolidation for the young Ukrainian. The crowd have taken to him, his defending has improved immeasurably, he shows good attacking movement and if he scores more spectacular goals (or even tap-ins) he’ll continue to be a fans’ favourite!
Nathan Patterson - Grade: Incomplete
Starts - 1 (FA Cup), 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 yellow cards
Another signing late in Rafa Benitez’s tenure, this much-talked about transfer had rumbled on since last summer and earlier. When the club finally got it all done the expectation was high. Coleman would surely get a rest from playing every week and under the Irishman’s guidance we would see Patterson flourish into the star full back he will surely become. How wrong could we be?
No appearances at all under Benitez and 45 minutes of FA Cup duty under Lampard against non-league opposition before being harshly withdrawn was not what we expected. Injury put paid to much of the second half of the season, a league debut cruelly denied him following a training accident with Dele.
Fans are anticipating a very different season ahead from the talented young Scotsman. His energy and attacking verve as regularly demonstrated for the national team and his previous club Glasgow Rangers should be just what Frank Lampard’s team of ‘22 needs. He’s clearly suited to playing as a right wing back in a 3-5-2 formation.
Ben Godfrey - Grade: B, Alex Iwobi - Grade: A
Neither player is a natural as a full back or a wing back but both found themselves playing either full back or wing back.
Apart from a few isolated glimpses of his great 2020/21 form, centre back Godfrey had a pretty miserable season generally. He began the season reportedly suffering from the after effects of Covid and it showed in some lifeless performances. Like a Rolls Royce but misfiring on a few cylinders he was asked to play left back on several occasions as Digne fell out with Benitez. He did OK, appeared to stop more crosses than Digne and he always appears better on the left than the right, despite being predominantly right footed. His distribution however is limited once he gets forward. Injuries wrecked his season further but he will undoubtedly return stronger.
Iwobi played several games at right wing back and did surprisingly well under Lampard who clearly instilled confidence into him. His defensive awareness seemed to have improved under the new coach and he did not look out of place.
Lucas Digne - Grade: B
Previously one of our players of the season and star performers he was well and truly shackled under the restrictions imposed by the defensive minded Rafa Benitez. In truth his first half season at left back was one to forget all round. His form was not great, no doubt heavily influenced by the growing discontent with his manager. His real strengths of making penetrative runs and crosses had all but disappeared. Digne wasn’t awful and he departed the club still as the best left back we had at the time but the fall-out with Benitez produced an inevitable result.