Djibril Sidibé – to Buy or Not to buy?

Brought in at the backend of the summer transfer window following Jonjoe Kenny’s loan move to Schalke, it was probably the expectation that the World Cup winner would settle in as back-up for Seamus Coleman for the majority of the season – in theory, a handy way of using the loan market to plug up the gaps while Kenny is given the chance to grow elsewhere. Yet, with Coleman seemingly in decline and now only able to show slight glimpses of his former ability, Sidibé has now found himself as the starting right-back at the club – and in part, has impressed.

French football has had quite a prestigious history when churning out defenders with all very similar attributes, and Sidibe fits nicely into this category. Aggressive off the ball, pacey and penetrative when on it, it makes for quite an intriguing player construction that leads to the unexpected with each passing game.

Unfortunately for Sidibé, ‘unexpected’, is probably the perfect adjective to use when describing him. His unpredictability makes for an abundance of both positives and negatives that has consequently become one of the major talking points amongst Evertonians these past few weeks, a dilemma that has slightly divided opinion. Some think he’s the real deal, some think he’s more of a liability than an asset, some think, with a £12m option-to-buy, Everton probably won’t be able to do much better.

So, I thought I’d take a look into what makes the Djibril-Sidibé-debate such an intriguing one, and more so, such a difficult one to find the right conclusion.

What the data says…

Sensibly, data and statistics are key elements when analysing the strengths and weaknesses of footballers. Fittingly, the data matches up to what many people perceive him to be with the eye-test. He’s an unorthodox player with certain attributes that make him stand-out in comparison to other right-backs, his aggressiveness in-part is unmatched, and his output in defensive actions in accordance to that is quite high – he averages 4.1 tackles and 2.2 interceptions p90, amongst Europe’s top 5 league’s, he’s third highest for tackles p90 and fifth highest for interceptions (players with 1,000+ minutes played). The full-back in comparison overshadows his colleague Seamus Coleman, and loanee Jonjoe Kenny in these areas too;

  • Seamus Coleman – 6 tackles and 1.3 interceptions p90
  • Jonjoe Kenny – 5 tackles and 0.8 interceptions p90

Clearly, the difference in output is glaringly obvious – for Sidibé though, there’s a catch. His combativeness in defence could possibly be generated by his own downfalls – particularly the ease in which he can sloppily give the ball away or even how his ‘dribbled past’ numbers even out the amount of tackles he completes. Sidibé on average is dribbled past 1.5 times p90 (2nd most in terms of Premier League full-backs), Kenny and Coleman in comparison 0.9 and 0.7 times p90. It’s an interesting stat nonetheless, while Sidibé leads Everton in both tackles and interceptions this season, it’s ominous that his 1v1 ability remains one his biggest flaws – personally, a flaw that’s hard to ignore, particularly with likeliness that Ancelotti continues with 4-4-2 into next season, players holding their own and winning their individual battles is key in a system that can leave your full-backs more vulnerable in comparison to others.

Attacking Contributions

The offensive side of his game is probably the main reason as to why people think the club should trigger the £12m price tag in the summer. On the face of it, his output legitimises these thoughts too, Sidibe has four assists from right-back, only three full-backs in the league have more (TAA, Robertson and Lucas Digne) and Sidibé only became a regular for Everton from November onwards. It’s no real surprise to see him high up the assist list either, it doesn’t take long to watch him to realise that his crossing ability is one of his biggest strengths (3.25 crosses p90), something that made him so integral to the Monaco side of 17/18.

Sidibe

As noticeable from the visual above, Sidibé comes across as a progressive player on the ball, a key component to have as a modern-day full-back. Importantly, not only does he carry the ball forward through his dribbling (1.5 p90) but he scores high in both deep completed passes and progressive passes – his 9.82 progressive passes p90 is pretty good for a full-back. Whether Sidibé is kept on after the summer or not, and whoever his replacement could be, making sure Everton keep that large-scale progressing ability is vital and is probably something we’ll see more of from Everton signings in the future. Alex Iwobi, Andre Gomes, JP-Gbamin, Bernard and Richarlison are all well-known strong carriers of the ball and having a right-back out-wide who can contribute to that, is a nice facet to have.

And it’s this theory, that probably means the club will move on from Kenny in the summer too. Athleticism is one of his biggest constraints, as seen from the recent RB Leipzig game; constantly caught out of position, incapable to get back to make up for it.

The performance itself was probably proof as to why we should look elsewhere in the summer.

One of the key reasons as to why Sidibé’s so highly thought of as an attacking wing-back is because of his current assist record. His four assists (5 in all competitions) puts him only behind Trent Alexander-Arnold in terms of right-backs and assists in the Premier League, and although this is good, it’s maybe not the best basis to judge creativity. ‘Key passes’ and more importantly, ‘expected assists’ (xA) are much closer to the real thing – highlighting not just the quantity, but the quality of the chances they create.

While recording 4 assists in the league so far, Sidibé’s xA totals at 2.0 (0.10 p90), proof of a slight over-performance while feeding off the good form of both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. He also only averages 0.82 key passes p90 which is pretty much bang average for a Premier League full-back, ranking 19th for full-backs who have played over 1,000 minutes.

There are some interesting caveats to refer to though when discussing Sidibé’s attacking output, mainly that Everton’s build-up comes through their full-backs, it’s for that reason as to why there are question marks surrounding Sidibé’s data and why comparisons to Digne maybe reflect where Everton could upgrade.

For instance, while Digne only has one more assist in comparison to Sidibe, their xA and key passes convey a stark contrast;

  • Djibril Sidibé – 2.0 Expected Assists (0.10 p90), 0.82 key passes p90
  • Lucas Digne – 4.6 Expected Assists (0.19 p90), 2.38 key passes p90

The above proves a clear gap in output, and that possibly Sidibé’s attacking impact has been slightly overrated. It also suggests that the club could still upgrade on the Frenchman, someone with similar or even better numbers now elsewhere, could then potentially be even more effective in a system like Everton’s. Max Aarons for instance, one full-back whose already been linked to the club, is already averaging 3.66 xA90 despite playing for one of the worst sides in the league.

Sidibé though, for now, seems effective enough for Ancelotti to be Everton’s first choice right-back – so much so that there has been a change in build-up style already since his arrival.

Defensive Flaws

As already touched on, his defensive ability is probably what leaves the discussion surrounding the player so open. There’s no doubt that going forward is where Sidibé excels, but full-backs need to be able to defend and I’m not too sure he actually can, no denying some of his numbers are strong in volume. though as already stated, his high defensive dual numbers make up for what he lacks in the basics of defending. Whether it be tracking runners, not committing into 1v1s so early or simply being able to recognise the threats around you, Sidibe at times, shows his limitations.

And with that, there’s been times already when his defensive woes have cost the side, both during the reign of Marco Silva and Carlo Ancelotti.

Positioning – something that can’t be measured through statistics, is arguably one of the key flaws that lead to some of his biggest criticisms.

DS vs

Shall we play a game of ‘Where’s Sidibé?’

Here, Sidibé casually finds himself caught in the middle of the pitch as Liverpool quickly transition into the area he should be defending – leaving Holgate and the rest of the defence vulnerable. Liverpool make it 1-0. You can copy and paste that for their second goal too. Albeit playing as a wing-back in the Derby, he was spotted out of position on numerous occasions in a game that heavily exploited his lack of positional awareness. While there is nothing particularly worrying in being caught out of position further forward, especially as a full-back, I’d personally expect better from someone with his experience, considering who he was up against. The match itself turned into just a 35-minute cameo, he was quickly put out of his misery up after coming up against Mane and Robertson.

It’s a flaw that maybe Carlo Ancelotti realises too, recently in the Crystal Palace game, it was Coleman who was chosen to start when facing Wilfried Zaha – maybe not the type of right-back you want to be signing if the manager clearly doesn’t have full trust in the players ability to carry out his defensive duties?

Interesting that since the arrival of Ancelotti, it’s been Seamus Coleman who’s been trusted when it comes to facing genuine attacking threats. Coleman has started games against Man City and Liverpool, where Sidibé was used further forward instead, and again recently at home to Palace against Zaha.

What to do in the Summer

Djibril Sidibé has a vast number of characteristics that make for a quite the decent player, and it’s no surprise as to how he’s had his fair share of success in his career to date. For me though, Everton need to be looking at taking the next step in the summer and should be wanting to make upgrades throughout the squad – the fact that his contract is not a permanent one, gives the club the perfect excuse to go out in the summer to find almost a better version of the Frenchman.

While Everton have quite an interesting dilemma when it comes to the Frenchman, they simultaneously have a Jonjoe-Kenny-one too. Having watched him quite heavily through his spell in the Bundesliga, I think it’s best the club look beyond both the right-backs in the summer. On Kenny, although getting some pretty decent praise while out in Germany, he was loaned out specifically to develop, to iron out his own deficiencies – the problem being, I don’t think there’s been that much change in his ability. I also don’t think there’s that much difference between both Sidibé and Kenny.

Which begs the question; if you wanted to purchase Sidibé permanently, then why wouldn’t you just keep Kenny and not spend a penny? Or, if you didn’t want to buy Sidibé, then why wouldn’t you want upgrade on Jonjoe as well?

Something that came to light recently was the state of homegrown talent in the current Everton squad, and when buying a right-back (or keeping Jonjoe Kenny), it’s something that should absolutely be kept in mind.

Presently, Everton’s 21-man squad consists of 10 homegrown players, with the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin included within this. There’s no ‘official’ minimum that forces clubs to have a set amount of both English and foreign talents, but in a full 25-man squad (Brands has insisted on wanting a squad of 23 players), only a maximum of 17 non-homegrown players are allowed.

One possibility this summer though is that five (Baines, Gylfi, Walcott, Schneiderlin and Keane) of our current homegrown players could depart Finch Farm this summer, leaving the club with just six official homegrown players, Tom Davies joins the list from next season. Albeit the club don’t have to desperately abide by the above rules, the impacts of Brexit could have certain implications that could lead to stricter rules – so this summer when Everton are routinely leaving their transfer business to the last minute, looking at younger, homegrown talents could be the way to go.

And, it just so happens that two of my personal favourites to take that right-back slot, just so happen to be English. Max Aarons at Norwich being one, Matty Cash at promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest being another.

Max Aarons, the young Norwich prodigy will likely be one of the most sought-after right-backs in Europe this summer, Everton should absolutely be one of the clubs looking to buy him. For a 20-year-old right-back who still has some weaknesses to train out, Norwich will likely want a fairly high price for him – but it should be worth it. You’d have one of the brightest full-back prospects on your books, and potentially your right-back slot sorted for the next decade.

Matty Cash meanwhile could be a cheaper yet still fairly underrated signing for the Blues. Forest roughly wanted between £10-15m in January when West Ham were interested in January, so you’d assume a similar fee would be enough if the Midlands club didn’t win promotion. Cash is a midfielder-turned-defender, with his versatility one of his leading traits and has quietly become one of the most consistent full-backs in the Championship, despite being just 22.

The Forest defender could also aid Ancelotti in resorting back to the build-up system that we saw at the beginning of his reign and for the majority of his spell at Napoli. Usually in his 4-4-2, only one of the full-backs would venture forward, while the other plays more inverted to support the centre-backs and protect the midfield pivot. Not only does it reinforce the defensive cover but also strengthens the options during our build-up play, the inverted full-back adds further options in midfield and possibly allows Andre Gomes to push further forward letting him relinquish some of his defensive duties.

Conclusion

This write-up (I do apologise) has turned out to be quite a long one, but it demonstrates the difficult decisions the club have to make in the summer, and this is just with one position. Sidibé for sure has been a decent stop-gap for this season, but if Everton are ambitious and as forward-thinking as they say they are, then I’d expect his purchase option to be passed upon. But that then leaves you with the Jonjoe Kenny conundrum; if Sidibé isn’t good enough, then is Kenny? It might simply come down to whatever offers are made for the Scouser. Schalke will likely want to turn the loan move into a permanent one, and other clubs could possibly be interested too.

That then begs the question can Everton really pass up on making roughly £20m on someone who can easily be upgraded upon? Some fans don’t like the idea of it, due to the connotations it has surrounding supposed mentality or ambition, but for the club to be as efficient as they need to be, especially with a new stadium on the horizon, then Everton will have to be a ‘selling club’. Buy payers for low/reasonable fees, to then profit on them after a couple of years – it was the exact reason as to why the likes of Richarlison and Moise Kean have been brought in since Brands’ arrival. It’s just how well-run clubs work. Kenny cost Everton nothing, and the club have the opportunity to make £20m on him and could then possibly get better for cheaper.

It’ll probably turn out that Everton’s right-back dilemma is concluded with what makes the most sense off the pitch, rather than on it.

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