While it would be bold to suggest that three at the back will never ever be used again under Sean Dyche, Evertonians will largely be expecting the flat back four this coming campaign. The Blues have looked more solid under the former Burnley boss compared to his predecessor (sorry Frank, but it wasn’t difficult) but can the current crop of central defenders be truly relied on if the Blues are to enjoy a better season than simply battling relegation?
Everton’s captain during the pre-season even with Jordan Pickford on the pitch, the former Burnley man enjoyed a solid season with consistent performances and a natural aptitude for leadership. Dangerous in the opposing penalty area (just ask Arsenal), Tarkowski may not be the most technically gifted defender in the Premier League, but is one of the most dependable, having played every minute of the previous campaign, and seemingly the main starter in the middle of the defence this season.
The 30-year-old tied the knot this summer and appears to have overcome the worrying-looking knock that saw him leave the friendly against Sporting CP last weekend. Dyche and the rest of us Blues will certainly be hoping he hasn’t lost any of his qualities from last season.
Another former Burnley man who was under the stewardship of Dyche, Keane enjoyed a reintroduction into the first team upon the appointment of Frank Lampard’s successor. Technically sound, the question has always remained as to whether the 30-year-old can truly step up and be a consistently reliable star in the heart of Everton’s defence. On paper, Keane/Tarkowski managed by Dyche should work, but for every wonder goal against Spurs, comes a defence lapse or a bout of naivety that costs teams dear in the English top flight.
Slow on the turn and now getting on in years, will Keane lined up alongside Tarkowski end up being a tactical concern for the Blues?
Strong, committed and fearless, the former Norwich City man has endured a rotten run of luck with injuries that have derailed his progress. Often deployed as a full-back, questions have been raised as to whether the 25-year-old can truly step up and be a regular starter in the middle, particularly in a two-man pairing.
Another whose strengths aren’t in the distribution of the ball, the Blues faithful may be seeing Godfrey as full-back cover again this season, or at least a starter in the Carabao Cup. The worries around his defensive lapses remain stronger than ever, and if he is the Toffees’ first centrehalf back-up option come the end of the transfer window, then it could be a truly dire season all over again.
Confident, forthright, if only the performances of the Doncaster-born Holgate could match his belief in himself. Another often deployed as a full-back under Dyche, the 26-year-old has not developed into the player many hoped he’d be when he completed his move from Barnsley in 2015. Often reckless in decision making, fans won’t have forgotten his red card against Crystal Palace, and a move away from Goodison would probably be welcomed by player and club alike.
Rumours of interest from Southampton among others have done the rounds this summer, and it will be unlikely he is still on Dyche’s squad in the end of August.
The joker in the pack that could potentially save Everton a lot of money. Blessed with all of the physical and technical attributes for being a top defender, a very solid loan spell with PSV last season has reportedly attracted the interest of Manchester United who may well test Everton’s resolve.
At just 21, it would be both premature and unfair to expect the former Carlisle man to be the answer to so many of the Blues’ problems, but if no permanent or loan move is forthcoming for the England-U21 star, the Goodison faithful may well see more of Branthwaite in the months ahead.
State of the Position
A simple case of quantity over quality in this area and one that does need addressing. Though he was never a regular due to injury, there is a giant Yerry Mina-sized hole that is gaping at the heart of the Blues’ defence.
There is no youngster in the youth ranks that is ready to make the jump up to the top tier this season with Reece Welch the most advanced of the lot and only able to secure a loan at Forest Green Rovers in League Two.
Tarkowski is solid, consistent and reliable, but in this day and age of the Premier League, sides need players who can comfortably carry the ball out from the back. Godfrey and Holgate are not the answer in that respect, while Keane’s strength of character and reliability will always be in question and is Branthwaite truly ready?
With that assessment and pertinent questions, we need an incoming and possibly a few outgoings as a matter of some urgency once goals in the other end have been addressed.