“It’s the most, wonderful time of the year….”, the Grand Opening of the Football World, the summer transfer window and has there been a more important time in the club’s history? It’s something that is asked every window, but it is make or break for Everton, a chance to escape mediocrity and cross the jungle bridge into the land of milk and honey. However, The Toffees cannot plunge through after the first step, and that starts here. Twelve months of boredom, self-annihilation and depressing football has kicked in some realism to the fans and, hopefully, the board; an overdue reconstruction of the squad is in desperate need as well as fresher, more ambitious targets need to be highlighted when in pursuit of new players.
I’m no super-scout, all the targets I’ve listed are players that I think are well capable of playing fast, attacking football which Silva has installed at his previous clubs. I may make the wrong call on certain players in this series and some targets are a little pushy in terms of Everton’s capabilities of signing them, however, we need to get out of this mindset of going for teams below us and splashing all our budget on them unless they have the potential to grow and flourish into something nobody expected. It’s where we have gone wrong in the past. £30m for Bolasie, £45m for Sigurdsson, both examples of hefty overpaying when there are players for half the price and twice the ability.
That being said, Everton has spent £50m on centre-backs over the last 3 summers, Mason Holgate’s £1m move from Barnsley being the best of the bunch without a doubt. This high amount of spending has resulted in The Toffees having the 5th worst defence last season, conceding 54 goals in the Premier League. As well as this, the failure to pick up a replacement for Baines was almost as bad as not replacing our £75m striker.
So, why do Everton need a change in defence?
A desperate change is needed in our backline, Williams, Jagielka and Baines are all far too old to play regular Premier League football. In my opinion, the first step in organising Everton and installing a much quicker game is to bring in a centre-back, well capable of playing the ball from his position. Pickford certainly has this potential if you instruct him to play the ball more than smash it forward every time. Mason Holgate will be a vital piece to the puzzle; but does he have enough experience yet under his belt?
A huge problem last season was the lack of balance in the team. Martina playing most of the campaign at left-back and no left-footed player in the entire club left us heavily exposed, as well as providing no threat from the left side. Everton’s defence is long overdue a shake-up; Baines’s return at home to Brighton was a great example of what a creative full-back can bring and what has been our fiercest weapon going forward has been for almost 10 years.
- A young centre-back who can play the ball from the back to keep the attacking flow going, comfortable in possession.
- Capable of leading the team, unable to be walked through.
- Feeding creators in midfield.
- A left-back who can provide the same creative levels as Baines produced in his prime (3.1 key passes per game – 2012/13 season),
- Providing overlaps and high work rate; another way for Everton to attack, as well as a solid defensive presence.
Not much then.
The Targets: Who Should Everton bring in at Centre-Back?
Honourable Mentions: There are a lot of football players in the world, I can’t analyse all of them, so here are a few names you could look into yourself in case you are interested. They are players I did think about adding to this, but I didn’t do as much research into them so forming an opinion would be unfair.
Wesley Hoedt (Southampton), Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Dominique Heintz (FC Koln), Ramy Bensebaini (Stade Rennais).
#1: Abdou Diallo – Mainz 05
Tall, a fast-learner and capable of taking the ball upfield, Abdou Diallo has been a fantastic investment for Bundesliga club, Mainz. The young Frenchman was part of the luxurious Monaco academy before his transfer, which has produced players such as Henry, Mbappe, Petit and Carrasco in the past. Diallo joined Mainz from Monaco for a fee of around £4.5m last July, signing a five-year deal at the club, and has thoroughly impressed fans in the Bundesliga. Upon arriving, Mainz sporting director, Rouven Schröder said: “Abdou Diallo is strong in the air and shrewd in the challenge and had generated a lot of interest across Europe. He’s quick, good in the build-up play and defensively versatile.”
Analysis: So, what makes a great captain? Leadership, playing as an example and bravery are all elements that spring into mind and are all skills Diallo possess. The first attribute I noticed with the France U-21 captain is his ability to dribble the ball out from the back. I remember watching John Stones away to Fulham back in 2014, I loved the way he would get the ball and a few moments later see the attacker miles away from him with the ball still on his feet. Diallo does this but ends up with the ball in the final third. No defender in the Bundesliga runs with the ball as much as he does, in fact, he completes more dribbles per game than Yannick Bolasie (Diallo = 1.2, Bolaise = 1.1). He has the pace to beat the man, the strength to keep the ball and the brain not to make any defensive errors.
When passing, Diallo prefers to play the long ball if the option is there. Of course, Everton fans have had enough of seeing long-balls being played under Allardyce, but it can be a great plan B option if you have Calvert-Lewin on the field. Diallo has the ability to pick players out in the box from the middle third of the pitch, delivering some incredible passes into the area for attackers to latch onto.
The Frenchman has proven to be hard to get past when the opposition is on the attack, he is dribbled past 0.4 times per game; to compare to the rest of the Bundesliga, that is just below average and a smaller rate than the likes of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Naldo. As Diallo moves up the field, he can leave gaps behind him, which could be a role for a holding midfielder if we play a 4231 (Baningime?), but Mainz’s centre-back is a player with very few faults and arguably Everton’s strongest choice for a left-footed defender who can fit in instantly.
Why Everton should sign Diallo: At the age of 22, he is already filled with experience as well as room to learn and adapt at Everton. With him and Holgate being established, it’s an ideal partnership for Marco Silva to build a passing system. As well as that, you have a different variety of passers between the two, Diallo more accurate long-balls whilst Holgate is better with short-passes. He will bring balance, leadership and build a stronger defence for The Toffees.
#2: Maximilian Wöber – Ajax
Ajax has an extremely rich history of producing and developing some of Europe’s finest talents; even now there is a high potential for the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and David Neres, but one talent has gone under the radar this season in the form of Austrian centre-back, Maximilian Wöber. Max signed for the Dutch giants from Rapid Vienna for a fee of around £7.5m last summer and his debut for Austria would come soon after, at the age of just 19 years old. Wöber has flourished in a very young Ajax team, having made over twenty appearances in the Eredivisie.
Analysis: In possession-controlled teams, the centre-backs would often hold a lot of the ball. We see this from teams in every league, regardless who is in control. You can see here that 19-year-old Max Wöber is very productive with the ball, providing a link between not only his fellow partner in defence but also a high pressing full-back and even to attacking midfielders who thrive on possession. Ajax’s passing style has helped Wöber accumulate an 88.2% passing success rate.
The Austrian prefers to make short passes when in possession of the ball, which helps the team retain it. Defensive wise, he is part of a very attacking built team so statistical wise it isn’t as captivating. In 1,230 minutes of football, he’s attempted 30 tackles and made 24 of them. Wöber is a disciplined player, receiving only two yellow cards in the Eredivisie last season; not producing many fouls either.
In aerial duels, Max is strong in the air, winning 62% of 68 he had attempted last season. Overall, he is a great ball-playing centre-half, left-footed, well-disciplined and influential in build-up play and defence. Ajax paid a fair price for him and Wöber did sign a four-year deal at the Dutch giants so chances of them up for selling him are unlikely. He may not have the experience of playing in “Europe’s top 5”, but he has proven to be a worthy candidate for any attacking manager’s team.
Why Everton should sign Wöber: Admittedly, Everton and Ajax probably do not have the best of relationships at this moment in time, thanks to the horrible treatment Klaassen has received over the course of the last twelve months. That aside, Wöber will need players around him to succeed and be more comfortable in his position, but he is a very capable player and has high potential. Everton lacks a player in the backline who can consistently provide our midfield with the ball, Max Wöber can deliver exactly that.
#3. Unai Núñez – Athletic Bilbao
The Lions are one of the 3 founding fathers of Spanish Football never to be relegated from the top division and are one of the most unique clubs on the planet. This is because they only sign players from the Basque Country, a small region in Spain – which also leads into France. Despite signing players from only this area, they have produced an incredible amount of talent over the years (here’s a really interesting video in further detail). This season, they have delivered again on another gifted player in the form of Unai Núñez. The Spaniard didn’t play a game for Atheltic Bilbao before this season, making his first-team debut on Matchday One, against Getafe. Since then, Núñez has gone on to make 30 more appearances in La Liga, having stand out performances against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Analysis: Goodison loves a hard-tackler, someone who instantly stops an attacker in their tracks. Núñez’s tackles are a sight to behold. Overall, he attempts 2.8 tackles per game with 2.3 being successful. Currently, he is a diamond in the rough, prone to an error or two, but contains a presence in defence that is so desperately needed at Everton. His aggression on the pitch can lift the entire defence’s morale, he’s brilliant at blocking shots and intercepting the ball if needed to.
Núñez has a commanding authority in aerial duels, winning 2.3 per game (63% in total). On a passing perspective, he is very composed on the ball but has the ability to break out of the defensive line and take the ball forward or producing a longer pass in order to bypass the midfield. The Spaniard contained an 82% pass success percentage last season, providing an important link to winger Markel Susaeta on numerous occassions; a lot of Bilbao’s attack where produced from the right side last campaign (a total of 43% of touches on this side of the pitch).
Here are a few pass maps from Athletic Club last season (for reference, Athletic lost two of these games and drew one). As you can see, Núñez receives the ball a fair amount of times in these maps, his distribution is in a variety of different places, sometimes going forward aiming for the winger or the overlapping full-back, other times going back to the goalkeeper to maintain possession of the ball. In an age of very high-potential defensive players are coming out of Spain, Núñez provides something a bit different, whilst containing a lot of skill and ability to work on.
Why Everton should sign Núñez: It may have been his breakthrough season, but Unai Núñez’s development from his first game for the club has been immense and will continue to grow. He’s had numerous amounts of stand-out matches already and has the physicality plus the intensity to control our backline for many years to come. Yes, the chances of him joining would be a shot in the dark, but with a €30 million release clause intact in his contract, it would be a gamble worth paying for one of Spain’s hottest defensive prospects.
#4. Kevin Vogt – Hoffenheim
Back in February 2016, Julian Nagelsmann was appointed the manager of 1899 Hoffenheim replacing Huub Stevens in the dugout. He took the struggling Bundesliga team from 17th in the table to two successive Champions League places; 4th in the 2016-17 season and now 3rd last season to secure a place in the competition. Nagelsmann was forced to retire from football due to a knee injury, but he has received countless amounts of plaudits thanks to his tactics, style of play and flexibility in his formations (here is a good video). At the heart of a hard-pressing defence is the club’s vice-captain Kevin Vogt, a midfielder converted to a centre-back which enables him to join the attack. Not only does he provide a big influence when in defence but also in the offence, going much further than a “ball-playing centre-half” usually does.
Analysis: His very unique role at Hoffenheim enables him to get much of the ball and be as productive with it as possible. Vogt averages a total of 71.6 passes per game, with an 89% pass success percentage. Only Boateng and Hummels attempt more passes than him in the Bundesliga. With his role in place, the ball is fed to attackers Uth, Kramaric and Gnabry and quite consistently as well, all three have scored 10+ goals this season. Playing in a back three, he is allowed to move up into midfield and is a huge influence in build-up play.
Here is Kevin Vogt in comparison to Phil Jagielka (our highest performing centre-half in these categories) and the average statistics for defenders in Europe’s Top 5. KP90 stands for key passes per 90, whilst xG Chain which means every player in a possession chain is credited with the final xG from the shot, xG Buildup works the same but no credit is given for assisting or shooting (here is a quick glossary if none of that made sense). Vogt towers over Jagielka in these categories and it’s worth pointing out that a lot of this is due to players around him who can create chances much more than we do, but Vogt proves he is well capable of keeping an attacking flow throughout the match.
Defensively, Vogt is helped by the players around him at times, he prefers to usher his players out towards the touch-line which can act as a second defender. The German doesn’t plunge into tackles and isn’t dribbled past very often. He doesn’t have mind-blowing defence statistics, which admittedly is what you want in a defender, but he is in a very forward-thinking, possession-based team that doesn’t defend the game as often.
Why Everton should sign Vogt: The system he is in at the moment is working wonders for him, being a key cog in the machine and has rightly deserved plaudits for his transformation into a new position. Out of all the players I have mentioned, we’re probably most likely to sign him and there were links back in January that he was wanted by Everton. If Vogt brings his passing ability over to Merseyside, he would be an absolute joy to watch.
Who Should Everton bring in at Left-Back?
Honourable Mentions: Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Luke Shaw (Man United), Blas Riveros (Basel).
#1. Philipp Max – FC Augsburg
Not many full-backs in Europe have had a season quite like Philipp Max, who has set the new Bundesliga record for the most assists by a defender in one season (12). Max came out of Knappenschmiede (Schalke’s academy – who have produced tonnes of talent in the past), but only made two appearances for the club. After a short spell at Karlsruher, who were in the second division at the time, he made the move to Augsburg in 2015; but it has taken him up until now to get the spotlight he has deserved.
Analysis: The first skill you notice about Philipp Max is his ability to cross the ball. From the exception of one goal which was assisted from his own half; Gregoritsch’s goal vs Hoffenheim and two from corners, all these assists come from the left-flank beyond the halfway line. His ability to deliver the ball into such a dangerous area consistently is very impressive. Max’s tally for key passes per game reached a total of 2.4 last season, 1.9 of these were entirely from crosses into the area. In terms of xA, Max didn’t actually overperform in comparison to the number of assists he was rewarded for in open play (xA = 5.89, number of assists = 9). This isn’t taking away what he has produced, but it goes to show that you need people in the middle in order for his creativity to be worth something.
As well as creating chances from crosses, Max is also extremely impressive from set pieces. Compared to the entire Bundesliga roster; which contains some fantastic free-kick and corner specialists, Max tops them all. This would be a brilliant plan b option, trying to win free-kicks in good areas and using our best players in the air to our advantage (date back to Moyes era with the likes of Fellaini and Lescott, with Baines and Arteta as a choice for delivery).
The German left-back makes a fair defensive contribution, having made an average of 2 tackles per game and is a well-disciplined player; although having 3 yellow cards in his last 6 Bundesliga appearances for Augsburg.
Why Everton should sign Max: Creatively he would be a key player for Everton to have, a player who we have desperately needed the last couple of seasons. He has a brilliant judgment of when to go forward or not so he will not leave gaping holes at the back, which can be difficult to defend against. At the age of 24, he will be a fine replacement for Baines, already with lots of experience and the chance to develop even further.
#2. Alex Telles – FC Porto
Brazil is known for its fast-paced, creative, ‘sexy’ football if you will, with hundreds of extremely talented players coming from the country over the decades. This style is ingrained in Brazil, even in there left-backs with talents such as Marcelo and Filipe Luis dominating La Liga. Both players made it to the World Cup squad, but one man missed out who thoroughly deserved his chance and that was Porto’s Alex Telles. The silky left-back has impressed massively in Portugal, being part of a title-winning Porto team who lost just twice all season and conceded only 18 goals in 34 games.
Analysis: Making 13 assists in any position is very impressive, but when you’re a left-back and reaching such numbers, it makes the stat even more remarkable and indicates just how far the full-back position has developed over generations. Overall, Telles reached 95 key passes throughout the course of the Liga NOS campaign, which is around 3.2 per game. A lot of these come from dead ball situations, 49 from corners and 16 from free-kicks. He is a great option to have for free-kicks, scoring twice last season from them.
Another impressive statistic I have found is that he completes 3.8 accurate crosses/cross passes per game (this doesn’t necessarily mean that it creates a chance, but still very intriguing nonetheless). Alex Telles’s crosses are brilliant to watch, getting into the best positions by either overlapping the winger or winning the 1v1 against the opposition full-back. Porto like to play narrow wingers, which gives the space in behind for Telles to access. His pace and agility are very difficult to handle, which he does throughout the game to create as many opportunities as possible.
As you can see on the pass-maps, Telles has a lot of influence in possession of the ball and provides key links with the winger and the number 10 (if Porto is playing a 4231). I love some of his average positions, sometimes even matching the winger. When facing a top club (Benfica for an example), he doesn’t tend to make as many overlaps but that is expected from a team that is going to provide more threat. The Brazilian has also recorded very good defensive statistics, winning 1.7 aerial duels per game. He doesn’t like to dive into tackles, instead following the ball carrier’s run until he has the chance to overturn possession, which doesn’t allow him to be dribbled past very often.
Why Everton should sign Telles: Not to overhype him too much, but there a very few weaknesses that are keeping the Brazilian back. He’s very creative, great at 1v1s, overlaps and has a strong defensive input, which makes him an ideal full-back for any team. He was linked with a transfer to Chelsea during the winter, but without doubt, Everton should be willing to make a go if we are to see a good left-flank again.
In Conclusion to Part One…
Everton conceded 58 goals last season, if that doesn’t want you to see a different backline then I have no clue what will. Sure, you can have the best defenders on the planet and you won’t concede much, but throughout all the different elements in the football world, organising a defence is one of the most important. It’s something we haven’t seen in the past few seasons, zero structure, just 11 men behind the ball without having a clue what to do. Organise and the goals will dry up.
Up the Toffees