It’s the goalkeeper’s responsibility to keep the shots out, it’s the defences job to stop them happening. Back in the days under Moyes, this wasn’t a major priority to cover when going into a Transfer Window. Coleman and Baines could’ve been argued as the best full-back partnership in Europe, Jagielka and Distin was a solid partnership and Moyes managed to solidify our back four as much as he could for a majority of his time at Everton. This also built the “Goodison Fortress”, barely anybody managing to go to Merseyside and beat us by a hefty result. These days, not as much. Although we have one of the best home records in recent years, away from home we’re shocking and this has affected our defence badly. After the sale of Stones and an ageing defence still going, it seemed like Koeman was going to bring in a completely new defence last summer, but this wasn’t the case… only Williams coming in. So who should come in this summer? What position should be our main priority? Here is who I think Everton should be bringing in this summer to help rebuild a solid defensive unit.
What is our realistic budget?
With the money already being spent on Pickford and Klaassen, we all don’t have a clue. With the amount of money being played around with these days, it looks like everyone has money. It’s most likely that we have enough money to sign another £20m-£30m player and that would be that – unless Barkley and Lukaku are sold (which in my opinion, looks like it might stall). Either way, Koeman hasn’t yet added a first-team defender too his ranks, which should be his priority… hopefully.
What positions in defence do we need to cover most?
All of them. I could’ve included a right-back section on this article, but with Jonjoe Kenny showing great ability and Cuco Martina probably joining the team, I don’t think it’s really needed. Centre-back and left-back are both crucial however. Not only do Jagielka and Williams not link together, but they’re nearer a wheelchair than regular time on the pitch, not only do I think we need one centre-back, I think we need a new partnership all together. Funes Mori is only good enough in a back three and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Mason Holgate is the only defender that is good enough to remain in the side.
For left-back, Baines is past it now and with him turning 33 in December, maybe bringing in a fresher understudy for him could do the trick. Brendan Galloway has potential in my opinion, but he’s more of a centre-back that a left-back (same goes for Mason Holgate), whilst Luke Garbutt hasn’t lived up to his hype which is very disappointing.
Why Everton need a Centre-Back?
Everton certainly have a good enough central-midfielders, Schneiderlin and Gueye are both remarkable, but our centre-backs are so easy to get past. We are easily exposed through the middle of the park, 8 chances turning into goals from that position. It simply isn’t good enough and with two fresh centre-backs in the team, we could build an absolute unit with the defensive midfielders we already have.
Ideally, I would like to see two first-team centre-backs coming in, one who can play the ball with ease (like Stones). They need to be good in the air and very difficult to get past, two priorities Everton’s defence don’t cover enough at this moment in time.
The Targets: Who Should Everton bring in?
#1. Antonio Rüdiger – AS Roma
About Antonio Rüdiger: Being born in Berlin, Germany, Rudiger played for several clubs in the area during his younger years, including SV Tasmania Berlin and Hertha Zehlendorf. Antonio was even at Borussia Dortmund for 3 years, before signing to VfB Stuttgart and played his first game in 3. Liga for the second team against Arminia Bielefeld. After 22 appearances in the space of 18 months, he was given his first game in January 2012 for the first team against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
It took another season before he could rack up some more appearances, 16 Bundesliga matches in the 2012-13 campaign before making 30 appearances the following season. Rudiger was one of the star players in a suffering VfB Stuttgart team, a team that just survived relegation in 15th place. His performances saw Rudiger sign a new contract at The Reds and even his first cap for Germany versus Poland.
The next season was a difficult one for Rudiger, picking up a Meniscus injury, which saw him miss ten games of the campaign. After 19 appearances in the 14-15 season, Antonio signed for Roma on loan with an option to buy. Rudiger featured in 30 games of the season and at the end of the campaign, Rudiger would sign a 4-year deal at Roma.
Analysis: The German has suffered a few injury problems over recent years, but having already made 15 caps for the national team it’s easy to see why Löw calls him up regularly. Rudiger can play anywhere on the backline and is built with good pace and strength, already built for the Premier League. He’s fantastic at aerial duels, winning 55% of them, understandable considering he’s 6ft3 inches tall.
He’s very hard to get through, only being dribbled past 0.7 times per game, only Kostas Manolas has a better record in the Roma team. He is a good pressing defender, getting close to his man and is very capable of taking the ball of the opposition player. Rudiger is also a good distributor of the ball, on average he makes 39 accurate short passes and 3.5 accurate long passes per game. Rudiger’s passing abilities have seen him contribute to 2 assists in Serie A this season and a total of 4 assists in all competitions.
As a team, Roma are one of the best at defending corners and Rudiger is a big part of that, having made 88 clearances this season and, as we’ve already mentioned, his ability in aerial duels. This could be so vital for a team like Everton, a team who has struggled to keep goals out from set-pieces and crosses.
Why Everton need Rüdiger: Personally, I’d love to see Everton revert to a 3 in defence formation. It means our full-backs can go forward, whilst we maintain stability at the back. I do think Rudiger can fit well in this system. Yes, it may be a risk with his injury problems and potentially a high price, but he’s absolutely solid and is one of the freshest and most exciting young defenders in Italian football at this time.
#2. Andreas Christensen – Chelsea
About Andreas Christensen: After 7 years at Brønby, Christensen signed for Chelsea in 2012 on a free transfer and was included in the match-day squad on the final day of the season against Everton. He made his debut in October 2014, playing right-back against Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup. Christensen also played in the final of the UEFA Youth League, a 3-2 win against Shakhtar Donetsk and would later make his Premier League debut against Sunderland.
In July 2015, the Danish centre-back signed a two-year loan deal to German club Bourssia Mönchengladbach. This was after he played his first international game, a 2-1 win over Montenegro. He made his debut for The Foals in a 4-1 victory over St. Pauli in the DFB-Pokal. Gladbach started their 15/16 campaign in awful fashion however, losing their first 5 games and the resignation of Lucien Favre following. Christensen played a massive role in the defence to help save their season, after the poor start they went onto be unbeaten in the next 10 games, including a 3-1 victory over Bayern Munich. Andreas would end the season as Mönchengladbach’s Player of the Year and the Danish Talent of the Year award.
Gladbach made many attempts to sign Andreas on a permanent basis, reported that a £14.25m bid was rejected by Chelsea for him. His first appearance of the season would be against BSC Young Boys in the Champions League play-off, Gladbach comfortably beating the Swiss side. Christensen suffered a gluteal muscle injury against Hamburg, which saw him out for a month. He would go onto make 31 Bundesliga appearances for that campaign, which saw him scored twice and see Mönchengladbach finish 9th in the table.
Analysis: On his day, Stones would be Everton’s best player by far and his ball-playing abilities was a big part of that. I felt like we’ve missed that this season, but signing Christensen would be an immense signing and one reason is because he is class with the ball. He displays quality vision and is amazingly calm with the ball, just watch his games against Man City and Barcelona in the Champions League. He does contain pace too, sometimes dribbling as far as into the final third with the ball.
In the Bundesliga this season, Christensen has an incredible 91.5% pass success rate, only Kevin Vogt of Hoffenheim and Sven Bender of Borussia Dortmund has a higher percentage in the Bundesliga (out of players who’ve played more than 5 games and made 100 passes). Defensive wise, he’s just as good. He’s a fantastic reader of the game, making an average of 2.3 interceptions per game in the league, that statistic is higher (2.8) in the Champions League. He’s very rarely dribbled past either, just a small average of 0.3 times per game does this happen.
He does know when to play the safe card however, making 8.3 clearances in the Europa League per game last campaign. In aerial duels, Christensen won 77 – which is 68% of his battles in the air. He’s covered in many aspects of the defending textbook.
Why Everton need Christensen: Andreas has shown fantastic qualities when he’s on the pitch, aerial duels, ball-playing, reading the game and making tackles, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could revolutionise the defensive play at Goodison Park. With Chelsea interested in Lukaku, it could be worth seeing if the Danish centre-back could be exchanged to sweeten the deal.
#3. Mauricio Lemos – Las Palmas
About Maurico Lemos: The young Uruguayan centre-half was a graduate through the Defensor Sporting academy, a team in the southern-part of the country. He made his professional debut in May 2014, appearing in a 2-1 home defeat to Montevideo Wanderers. He only appeared twice in his debut campaign, the other game facing River Plate. Lemos would make 7 appearances in the following campaign in the Premiera Division before being loaned out to Russian team Rubin Kazan. He also made his Uruguay under 20’s debut against Colombia.
On the 3rd August 2015, Lemos would start his first game for Rubin Kazan in a 1-0 away defeat to Spartak Moscow. He also appeared in two Europa League qualifiers against Sturm Graz and Rabotnicki. After 3 more appearances, Kazan bought the Uruguayan defender for around £340,000. In the same window, he would join Las Palmas on loan until the end of the season, with a buyout clause intact. He made his debut against Barcelona, coming off the bench in a 2-1 home defeat.
Lemos would appear in 9 La Liga fixtures of the 15/16 campaign, before Las Palmas made his move permanent for a fee of £1.7m. Mauricio scored his first club goal against Valencia in a 3-1 home win. He would make 26 appearances in all competitions in the 16/17 season, scoring 5 goals in La Liga.
Analysis: Having been linked with Barcelona, it’s quite clear that he’s been impressing the right people in Spain. He’s a first-team starter for Las Palmas, being very comfortable on the ball and distributing it impressively too. For a 21-year-old centre-back to make no defensive errors and to contain a passing accuracy of 83% is quite remarkable, especially in one of the planet’s biggest leagues. Lemos likes to produce long balls forward too, averaging 10 long balls per game (over half distributed finding a team-mate).
He is a good tackler, having made an average of 1.7 tackles per game and only being dribbled past an average of 0.2 times per game. Not only do these attributes mean he can play in the backline, but can also sit in front of them as well in defensive midfield. Usually, Lemos contributes to 6 defensive actions per game, which include clearances, interceptions and blocks, all in which Mauricio is comfortable in doing so.
The Uruguayan has also displayed a sensational ability in dead-ball situations too. Lemos has scored from 3 direct free-kicks in La Liga, to compare against Everton’s entire team, we only scored from two the entire season. I know that his job isn’t to just score free-kicks for us, but it’s a useful tool in his pocket and would certainly provide a much better chance of scoring from one.
Why Everton need Lemos: Being only 21 years old, he’s shown awesome ability when he’s on the pitch, even against teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona. He’s still got a lot of improvement ahead of him considering he hasn’t got that much experience in his first-team career – he’s only had 46 club games in his career so far for any club, but he has the potential to be a class act and he could be the heart of Everton’s defence for many, many years to come.
#4. Jannik Vestergaard – Borussia M’Gladbach
About Jannik Vestergaard: Like Christensen, Vestergaard also came through the Brøndby youth academy, signing for Hoffenheim in 2010 on a free transfer. He played for the second team before given the chance to play for Hoffenheim back in the 2010-11 season, making his Bundesliga debut in a 1-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt; he was only 18. He scored his first goal in Feburary 2012 in a 1-1 draw against Weder Bremen, going onto make 26 appearances in all competitions that season.
Vestergaard missed two months due to a torn lateral collateral ligament in the 2012-13 campaign, only making 16 league appearances that campaign, but he made 25 Bundesliga appearances the following season. He was also called up to the Denmark squad for the first time, making his debut against Poland. In January 2014, Werder Bremen bought Jannik for a fee of around £2.1m. He was instantly one of the club’s star players, only missing three games in his entire 18 months at the club. In that time, Werder Bremen survived the drop in fantastic fashion in 2015/16 season, winning 3 of their last 5 matches to scrap survival on the final day.
At the start of the last summer transfer window, Jannik joined Borussia Mönchengladbach for a fee of around £10.6m. Vestergaard was involved in every single Bundesliga game for the Foals, forming a partnership with fellow Danish man, Andreas Christensen. He scored 4 goals throughout the campaign and was involved in Gladbach’s Europa League and Champions League campaigns.
Analysis: Standing at almost 2 meters tall (6ft6½ inches), it’s a no brainer that he’s very, very good in the air. From a set-piece he’s the man to cross too, having scored four times for Gladbach in the league. In the Bundesliga, no defender won more aerial duels that him – 120, which is around 66% of battles he’s involved in. That’s an average of 3.9 aerial duels won per game. When corner kicks come in, he’s usually the man to head the ball whether it’s Gladbach’s corner or the oppositions. This season Vestergaard has made 172 clearances in the league, which is more than any other player in the entire division. Compared to Everton’s centre-backs, he’s better than all of them in these situations.
Not only that, but he’s also a very good reader of the game too. He makes an average of 1.6 interceptions in the Bundesliga, which is 56 interceptions in total. As you can imagine from being so tall, he’s very physical built but he is very well disciplined, only receiving one booking in the entire season.
Tackling wise he’s also immense, an average of 2.1 tackles per match, winning around half of the tackles he’s attempted. Another advantage is that he is also left-footed and has obtained a good passing accuracy at 85%, 118 of his passes being long balls forward. He is very calm in possession and on the pitch. He can take the ball forward to create more options, not exactly ball-playing, but keeping the ball and recycling is very comfortable for him.
Why Everton need Vestergaard: I’m not suggesting bringing both him and Christensen to Goodison Park, but out of the two we are probably more likely to get Jannik and for a cheaper price, even after spending just one season in the North Rhine. He’s physically built for the Premier League and can be the rock of the Everton defence, quite easily. Especially being left-footed, him sitting in a 3-man defence would be very, very pleasing indeed.
Why Everton need a left-back?
With 10 years of Leighton Baines as Everton’s first-choice left-back, it seems like his career has peaked. I’m not saying we should sell, he still produces some very good games in my opinion, but with Europa League football and Leighton turning 33 in December, there is no way he should be playing on a regular basis anymore. In terms of his back-up, one is a centre-back and one isn’t going to get another chance realistically.
I think Koeman will be looking for someone like Leighton to replace him, we saw how effective Everton where with full-backs and without doubt, Coleman flourished close to his 13/14 form whilst Baines didn’t improve as much.
#1 Jetro Willems – PSV Eindhoven
About Jetro Willems: Having been born in Rotterdam, Willems began his career at his hometown club. He went through the Sparta Rotterdam academy and made his debut at just 16 years old when facing Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch second division back in 2011. In the same year, Willems was part of the Netherlands team that won the under-17 European Championship. He made 13 league appearances in his first season and 3 more the next for Sparta Rotterdam before PSV signed the youngster for just over half a million pounds.
He made his Eredivisie debut against Vitesse and became the youngest Dutchman to play in UEFA competition against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Europa League, only being 17. In December of the same season, Sir Alex Ferguson labelled him as “the next Patrice Evra” as Man United were rumoured to be in for him. After 15 first-team appearances, Willems signed a new contract in April 2012, extending it until 2016. He scored his first professional goal in the same month, scoring against NEC and becoming the youngest goal scorer in the 11-12 Eredivisie season. After appearing at Under 17 and Under 19 level, Willems was named in the Euro 2012 squad, making his first appearance against Bulgaria. He also made his first start in the competiton, becoming the youngest ever play to play at the Euros at 18 years and 71 days of age.
Willems continued to maintain his spot on the team sheet the following campaign, making 34 appearances in the 12-13 season in all competitions, winning the Johan Cruyff Shield in the process. After a further 38 appearances for PSV in the 13/14 season, Jetro got his first taste of league success as they were crowned champions of the Dutch Division, Willems contributing to a staggering 13 assists that campaign.
Due to a serious knee injury, he missed out on a lot of game time in the 15/16 season, only playing 989 minutes of league football that campaign as PSV won their second consecutive Eredivise title and the Johan Cruyff Shield once again. The Dutch left-back would be much more involved in the following season however, making 32 appearances.
Analysis: Willems has broken a lot of records at his time in Dutch football. To be 23 years of age and to have been involved in 192 games for PSV Eindhoven is some statistic, especially missing half a season due to injury. He is perfectly built for his position, at just 5ft7 inches tall, which helps him glide past opposition in 1v1 situations; with great pace and skill. Jetro isn’t afraid to drive the ball forward, being involved in over 30 take-ons in this seasons Eredivisie and being successful in over 60% of them.
Everton have missed a real creator in the team and for many years it was Leighton Baines doing the business on the left, replacing him with Willems would be absolutely ideal. The left-back makes an average of 1.6 key passes per game and produces 1.4 crosses per game, a fabulous stat if you’re looking for creativity and for The Toffees this is important. Not only has Jetro Willems registered a total of 34 assists in his PSV Eindhoven career, but he has also shown fantastic ability at taking indirect free-kicks and corners with some of his excellent crossing skills. It would offer Everton a brand-new threat and could be very dangerous if we have the right players in the penalty area.
Defensively, he isn’t as involved as most defenders would be, on average only contributing to 4 defensive actions (either a clearance, interception or a block). This stat would only appear in a certain formation, if he’s playing as a wing-back in a 352, you could argue that he wouldn’t really need to contribute as much. Mistakes don’t appear often when he’s on the ball, only making 2 defensive errors that have led to an attempt on goal in the last 4 seasons.
Why Everton need Willems: Just turning 23, he is gifted with a lot of experience already, already with 22 Netherlands caps and over 200 competitive club games under his belt. He supplies so much going forward and is well qualified to play as a left-midfielder. If 352 is the way onward, and if I’m honest it should be, then he’s the absolute perfect wing-back to take us to the next level. With his contract expiring next summer, Everton could really have a chance if we show the interest.
#2. Ryan Sessegnon – Fulham
About Ryan Sessegnon: Born in Roehampton, London, Ryan has been part of Fulham’s youth academy since he was 8 years old. He made his England under 16 debut in a friendly against USA. He scored his first goal against the Netherlands in a 2-2 draw for the team and after 10 under 16 games, he made his under 17 debut against Turkey in March 2016, contributing with an assist on his debut.
He made his first-team debut for Fulham in an EFL Cup fixture against Leyton Orient and on the 16th August 2016, he made his Championship Debut aged just 16 years and 88 days. On his second appearance for the club, and his first at Craven Cottage, Sessegnon scored his first professional goal against Cardiff just a few days after his debut. He became the first professional footballer in the English leagues to score having been born in 2000s and the youngest ever in a Championship match. He would soon score his second goal in a 1-1 draw against Burton Albion in September and was heavily involved in the first few games of the season.
Sessegnon also made his first England Under 19 appearance in a friendly against Croatia and has gone onto make 7 caps in that youth level. At the end of the season, he concluded the season having made 25 Championship appearances and 3 FA Cup games. He scored 5 goals, included a brace against Newcastle at St. James Park and contributed to 3 assists.
Analysis: Only just turning 17-years-old, it’s pretty understandable that Man United, Liverpool and Tottenham have already shown heavy interest. With the ability to play in any position down the left, Sessegnon is very comfortable when in possession for his age. Overall, he achieved an 82% pass accuracy in the 16-17 season, making an average of 32 passes per game.
He can create chances and make key passes, Ryan created 13 opportunities for Fulham in his 25 games, contributing to 3 assists in the English second division. He is a big threat when going forward, not being afraid to go into a 1v1 situation with anybody, in total going into 44 take-ons – 43% of which being completed. Defensively, he is a good tackler making an average of 1.5 successful tackles per game. Ryan rarely commits fouls either, just 7 all season whilst not receiving any card in the process.
Sessegnon isn’t the strongest of crossers, but with the development on display under Koeman this could all change. As well as crossing, the youngster can sometimes leave his marker in a large amount of space, but Sessegnon has a great workrate. With fantastic amounts of pace, he works his socks off to track-back when the opposition can counter.
Why Everton need Sessegnon: To be honest, he isn’t going to be a first-team starter and probably won’t get tones of chances in his first-season, but he has a lot of potential. Fulham arguably have one of the underrated youth academies in the country and it’s very rare at any professional level do you see a 16-year-old make over 20 games. Sessegnon has fantastic potential and compared to other clubs he’s linked too, he can receive lots of development at Goodison Park.
Conclusion to Part One
Boosting our defence with young, fresh talent is so crucial for Everton to be catapulted towards potential European and domestic success. We cannot last with Jags, Baines or Williams playing twice a week and currently the backline doesn’t have the depth it so desperately needs. Signings the players I have mentioned, plus top quality coaching being included could make The Blues a brick wall. Any top side in the history of football has a top defence to match.
Who do you think Everton should sign to improve our defence?
Stats via Squawka, Whoscored and transfermarkt.
Part Two is on the way…
Up the Toffees!