As a consequence of the current pandemic, all things football-related are still (and rightly-so) uncertain. Yet, as a student with not much else to do, how better than to spend my time contemplating who Everton could or should sign whenever the next transfer window opens. The resulting transfer series will look at Everton’s most crucial needs when it comes to giving the squad the facelift it needs, with the positions looked at being;
- Central midfield
- Right-winger or second-striker
*Note that as of writing, I’m expecting that the transfer window will go ahead and that we will actually have money to spend.
The Current Crop –
This squad overhaul starts at right-back. Everton spent the 2019/20 season (so far) with Kirkdale’s finest, Jonjoe Kenny, on loan at Schalke, leaving World Cup-winning loanee Djibril Sidibe and new club captain Seamus Coleman as the first-team options. Admittingly, all three have had decent seasons, none have been tremendous but neither have they been abysmal. But still, it remains evident that Everton need to upgrade the side if they are serious about kicking on and becoming a consistent Champions League side, you only have to look at who was appointed as Marco Silva’s replacement on December 21st to see where the club’s ambition lies.
Following his debut season, there have been calls for Djibril Sidibe’s £12m buy-out clause to be triggered, which would make Sidibe a permanent figure at the club, and although I’m not his biggest fan, it’s not hard to see why such perspectives exist. His 4.3 tackles p90 equals Wilfred Ndidi’s, one of the best tacklers in Europe, whilst his 0.9 key passes and 0.11 xA90 shows up well for a right-back – on the face of it data-wise, Sidibe has the basic strengths you’d want from a right-back. He’s strong in his 1v1s and is effective when bombing forward, which is beneficial when your midfielders are so lacking when it comes to both defensive output and creative quality. Even without looking at the data, people see a full-back who is a consistent threat, someone with the flexibility to play further forward as a right-midfielder, and a defender who is aggressive, if not carefree, when it comes to challenging opposition players.
In isolation, the numbers look good, but the example of Sidibe shows why context is a necessity when using data to evaluate players. In this current Everton set-up, the full-backs are the main source of creativity, as seen with the influence of Lucas Digne. When comparing Everton’s most important attacking players, Digne ranks top three in Progressive Passes, Shot Creation Actions, Passes into the Penalty Area, Touches in the Final 3rd, and Expected Assists – not bad for a full-back. But in short, this proves the significance that a team’s system can have on an individual’s output.
On that right-hand side, Sidibe is practically the lone outlet with Theo Walcott still not adding anything of value. But the possible inflation of Sidibe’s attacking data, for instance, could be of use when looking for possible replacements, in that another player with similar or even slightly lower numbers could really kick on if they are used in our current system. Take possible target Max Aarons, currently raking up an xA90 of 0.13 and 1.81 Shot Creation Actions p90 – those numbers are decent for any right-back never mind one currently playing for the bottom side in the division. Now place him into this side, where he will likely have more touches p90, those numbers could surge.
In terms of Everton’s other right-back options, earlier this season I wrote about Kenny’s start at Schalke but if the club is serious about improving, then I just don’t think Kenny is good enough. He was sent on loan to prove that he could play for the club long-term, with a full-season at another side having no damaging effects on the clubs short-term performance. In hindsight though, I don’t think sending him on loan to a side managed by David Wagner was a good idea, defensively Kenny has always been solid enough, the next step was to judge if he was ready to influence the team offensively, and playing in a highly-defensive side like Wagner’s Schalke, he has never really had the perfect opportunity to prove his attacking ability.
Data-wise he appears to look decent enough, but again omits the notion that he just won’t reach the level that Everton are aspiring for, in terms of his progressive passing which is a key attribute for any full-back, he ranks 3rd in the Bundesliga. Yet his final ball remains underwhelming, involved in just 1.18 SCA90, whilst having 0.6 key passes and an xA of 0.05 p90 too, and when watching Schalke, it is clear he still lacks the physicality or engine to reach the elite levels as a full-back.
Seamus Coleman meanwhile comes across better, although he may not be the same as before his injury, he remains a strong dribbler (2.56 p90) and is a safe bet defensively (89% of his tackles won) but his final ball is worsening and he will be 32 in October. He’ll remain club captain but it’s unlikely that he’ll be Everton’s starting right-back for next season.
Personal Choices –
- Nationality: English
- Age: 20
- Club: Norwich City
- Position: Right-Back
- Other Positions: Left-Back
- TransferMarkt Value: £18m
- Expected Value: £25-30m
For some Evertonians, Norwich right-back Max Aarons is the first-choice to become Everton’s next right-back and prior to the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, I had been one of them – you’ll see why that may have changed as we look at the other options. Yet still, it’s easy to see why Aarons is so highly thought of, with the youngster also being linked to both Arsenal & Spurs.
For the majority of the season Norwich have been the bottom side in the league, they’ve done so whilst still having some really good individuals, Aarons being one of them. For a 20-year-old, he already has the experience of 72 career games, which in itself is quite the achievement considering the level he’s playing at. Within those games, Aarons has displayed how he’s a high-level technician with the ball, in conjunction to his explosive pace and dribbling ability that forces his creative threat, he’s an attractive prospect as an attacking full-back.
When looking at the data, it’s a must to consider his metrics from both this season, and last season in the Championship.
During the 2018/19 season, Aarons was one of the strongest right-backs in the league. He had a strong impact for Norwich offensively, and was key in progressing the ball into the attacking thirds. Aarons was attempting 4.12 passes into the final 3rd and 2.1 into the penalty area p90, signifying his use as a full-back who importantly can connect the play, whilst also attempting 3.6 dribbles and 2.34 progressive runs p90. It’s these statistics that emphasise his effectiveness as a modern attacking full-back, he was key during the build-up phases and demonstrated his quality end-product, racking up six assists from an xA of 4.06.
In comparison to this season, Aarons may have only plucked up one assist, but his expected numbers are so far superior to his season in the Championship. In total, his xA tallies at 3.5 (0.13 p90), the same as Gylfi Sigurdsson, and is also only bettered by four other full-backs in the Premier League with the Liverpool duo, Lucas Digne and Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira superior to the youngster. His 0.13 xA90 is solid though for a Premier League debutant, especially when considering Norwich’s league position, his numbers currently match Pereira from last season AND Sadio Mane’s, while also topping Ben Chilwell’s and Kyle Walker’s expected numbers from last season too. Even as a defender, Aarons has signified the offensive impact he can have to a team. Outside Norwich’s main front three of Teemu Pukki, Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell, Aarons is probably their key creative player – 4th (behind that front three) in xGChain, and 2nd in xGBuildup only to Emi Buendia, one of the league’s most active playmakers.
Defensively is arguably where the main questions lie for Aarons, but he remains fairly capable. His quick bursts of pace that enable his progressive ability going forward, also aid in his defensive contribution in terms of his capability to recover when possession may have been turned over elsewhere. 1v1 he remains competent enough, although his tackling volume of 1.6 and 1.3 tackles p90 over the past two seasons may not match Djibril Sidibe for instance, on average he’s only been dribbled past 0.5 times p90 over the same period. Aerially though, is where his main weakness lies. Standing at 1.78m tall, he can sometimes be vulnerable to diagonals from opposition players, often target-men would peel off with the expectation of easily winning the duel. It is the same for dangerous crosses into the box too, when watching him it was clear that his height would be targeted with overloads to the far-post he was defending. In the past two seasons, Aarons has won in total just 37 of his 117 aerial duels.
He may have some weaknesses defensively, but even despite this Aarons remains an exciting prospect and would resemble quite the coup if Brands and Ancelotti could entice him to Goodison Park. In signing Aarons, Everton would have a full-back that could match the offensive out-put of Lucas Digne, having such significant outlets on either flank, before even discussing the impact that your wingers may have, could be crucial in driving Everton up the table.
Football scouting and analyst writer, Josh Williams on Twitter, one of the brightest football writers around at the moment, spoke earlier this season about the key principle of signing dangerous players, players who are capable of contributing further forward despite their primary position, in which that when one player has an off-day, you have nine other outfield players who can carry the burden. Right-back Max Aarons, ticks this box.
- Nationality: English
- Age: 22
- Club: Nottingham Forest
- Position: Right-Back
- Other Positions: Right-Midfield, Central-Midfield
- TransferMarkt Value: £4.32m
- Expected Value: £10-15m
The decision from the then new Nottingham Forest manager Sabri Lamouchi, to convert Matty Cash from an all-round midfielder into a complete full-back could be one of the best things to have happened in Cash’s career. It’s a decision that has seen him go from a decent Championship level player, to someone who could arguably start at full-back for most Premier League clubs. Everton would be one of them.
Cash driving into midfield, exploiting the space ahead and splitting the opposition open seems quite the trademark move – it doesn’t take long when watching Forest to see how important the partnership of Cash and Joe Lolley is to them. His former playing-time in midfield helps when Cash does drive forward, his crossing ability is sublime and knows exactly how and when to drill crosses in (0.82 accurate crosses p90). Coleman averages 0.23, Kenny 0.53 and Sidibe 0.93.
As seen with the data visual above, Cash is fairly effective when going forward. Offensively, the stats indicate that he hasn’t lost any of the influence he had in the final thirds during the transition into a full-back, in terms of creativity, he’s achieving as expected – collecting four assists from an xA of 3.98, his xA90 of 0.11 is also superior to that of Max Aarons from his Championship campaign last season. His long-throwing capability was another thing that struck me, something Everton took advantage of with Lucas Digne under Marco Silva, it’s a niche form of chance creation but it works.
Simultaneously, Cash is also proving to be fairly capable defensively too, characteristically Cash personifies the aggressive, hard-working attitude that Evertonians demand, his habit of clattering into his opponents (while winning the ball) is something I’m sure most Blues would get behind. At times, the fact that he isn’t a natural defender can be noticeable, particularly in terms of his positioning or discipline with him often getting attracted to the ball, but that’s nothing that wouldn’t change with both better coaching and more time playing in the role.
When comparing both Cash and Aarons, arguably the leading candidates from a personal perspective, it’s fair to state that while Aarons may have the higher ceiling and overall might be the more ‘spectacular’ transfer overall, the youngster could cost up to treble the price Cash would. Do I think Aarons is three times the player Cash is? Definitely not. Do I think it would be sensible to spend up to £30m on a defender in the current climate, especially when other positions need filling too? Probably not. Although it may not the most inspiring of ways to look at things, I just think Cash would give you better value for money.
Overall, I think Cash ticks every box you’d want from a full-back, it’s important to note the level he’s playing at but the gap between the top flight and the Championship is no longer what it used to be. Cash seems a great character, both a leader and a good communicator, and at 22 there is still a lot of room for him to grow into. His flexibility is also key, both in terms of the other positions he can occupy, but also the defensive roles that he be utilised in too. An interesting viewpoint that would back the shouts for Cash, is that he resembles the type of full-back that compliments Ancelotti’s 4-4-2. Since his arrival in December, Ancelotti initially set-up with one full-back pushing on and the other tucking-in to make a sort-of back-three, in comparison to now when the two full-backs are used as the main creative sources as an attempt to get the best out of Sidibe as well as also dealing with a midfield that lacks any form of creativity. Though Cash suits the methodology that Carlo initially insisted on, he is capable of pushing on to help in attacking situations, but he could also tuck-in to support the midfield and provide a balance throughout the whole system. If the price is right, he could turn out to be quite the bargain.
- Nationality: French
- Age: 20
- Club: Strasbourg
- Position: Right-Back
- Other Positions: Centre-Back
- TransferMarkt Value: £6.48m
- Expected Value: £15-20m
Mohamed Simakan was linked to the Blues only a few weeks ago, with RB Leipzig & Dortmund also supposedly interested – you’re usually looking at a good player when those two clubs are about. Previous to the rumour, Simakan was always someone who came out well when looking at the data for defenders across Europe, and since having a closer look, it’s not hard to see why the youngster shows up so well.
When watching Simakan even over a short sample of games, whether it be playing as a full-back or wing-back, or even as a centre-back with the defender used quite flexibly by Strasbourg manager Thierry Laurey, Simakan portrayed the profile Everton may be looking for. Simakan’s versatility, similar to Cash, is one of the key aspects that makes him such an appealing option, it offers different systems for Ancelotti to use and more squad-depth too.
Simakan’s use at both right-back and centre-back has culminated into quite an intriguing player characterisation. His use at centre-back has proven his quality in the air and decent awareness in terms of his positioning with Simakan reading the game quite well, whereas his use at full-back has shown his effectiveness in terms of defending 1v1, even when defending exploitable space in-behind. The main thing that strikes you is his comfortability on the ball, though he’s not always as effective as he could be and is at times overambitious when pushing into midfield, he remains one of Strasbourg’s most progressive players. So far this season, he has completed 5.87 progressive passes p90, which would be the fifth-highest amongst Everton players this season, and second when compared to last season, he also makes 3.59 passes into the final 3rd which is a higher tally than that of Lucas Digne & Djibril Sidibe.
Although the underlying markers are there to suggest that Simakan’s ball-playing attributes could end up being one of his most influential, it still needs improving. Strasbourg aren’t the most progressive of possession sides, averaging the highest amount of accurate long balls in Ligue 1 for instance, which won’t help, at times though his passing can be quite rash, often lacking composure under pressure to make the right pass but that would come with more experience.
The visual above vividly represents how well-rounded Simakan has been in comparison to others in Europe this season, though the data represents his strengths it also emphasises how the quality of his final ball needs improving on. His overall xA90 of 0.04 is low, though it rises to 0.07 when filtering through his games at full-back (higher than both Coleman (0.05) & Kenny (0.04) though), yet this could become better when playing in a more offensive set-up.
Overall, Simakan could be a viable option for Brands and Ancelotti this summer. In terms of similarities, the Frenchman is comparable to both Mason Holgate and Joe Gomez when they first had their breakout seasons, therefore showing the type of role he could have in the side. For sure, Simakan wouldn’t offer the same offensive output as Digne on the opposite flank but still fits into the asymmetrical 4-4-2 Ancelotti implemented at Napoli at times, with one full-back sitting narrow rather than consistently pushing forward. Similar to Holgate & Gomez, Simakan’s future may be at centre-back, but that does not mean he couldn’t convert if and when Ancelotti departs.
Potential Wildcards –
Despite his flaws, if Sidibe was under-24, I’d likely make his loan deal a permanent one. He would come at a good price and excels in some key areas, so it’s a shame they’re adjoined by weaknesses in his game that are tough to ignore considering his age. If the Frenchman was younger, he would at least have the possibility to develop or mature, but at 27, a transfer seems pointless.
So, it begs the question as to why wouldn’t you just find a younger version? Enter; Emerson.
Emerson’s transfer situation is quite a weird one. He was signed last January from Atletico Mineiro by BOTH Real Betis and Barcelona. The €12m fee that was paid was split between them (€6m each), with Barca spending another €6m to complete the permanent signing in 2021. Since his arrival at Betis, it’s been obvious as to why Barcelona was interested originally, the young Brazilian has impressed, since gathering interest from Spurs following his total of eight-goal involvements this season – three goals and five assists (1.66 xG & 3.85 xA).
Characteristically though, he is quite similar to Sidibe. Going forward is where he mainly excels, he plays with the intent to drive forwards and is an effective presence out-wide. He isn’t as influential on the ball as other potential options, only making 1.64 passes into the final 3rd and 4.36 progressive passes p90, though his end-product is still decent. His unorthodox style on the ball at times looks uncontrolled, but he makes it difficult to defend against, often barging through defences and creating opportunities for his side. Similar to Sidibe, his attacking out-put is probably his biggest strongpoint, his xA90 of 0.11 is good and could still go up a level by playing in a better side.
He does have certain areas that need improving though, needing to show more composure on the ball, and with the aid of his physicality and end-product, it would be beneficial if he increased the number of dribbles he attempts too. Emerson poses an interesting proposition for Brands and Ancelotti, he offers the attacking emphasis that has made Sidibe so important but also has room to develop into with the right coaching. He wouldn’t be seen as a priority from my viewpoint, but with the potential he has, and with the Barcelona contacts Marcel Brands has created, I see it as a possibility.
Another potential option, is midfielder-turned-right-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Realistically, I don’t see us looking at him and neither do I think he would sign if he would again be used as a right-back rather than his preferred central-midfield position – it’s a shame his best position is one he doesn’t like playing. From what I’ve read from a majority of Arsenal fans, him falling so out of favour under Arteta has been down to his attitude against permanently converting into a right-back. That’s not to say someone of Ancelotti’s ilk couldn’t change that, but I assume from his perspective, it would just be moving the problem from one club to another.
Yet, Niles would still be an option I would consider. Over the past 18 months, AMN has been one of my favourite non-Everton players to watch, he’s confident and adventurous on the ball, could be available at a good price considering both his age and skillset and is again, quite versatile. He also offers the possibility to make that sort-of back-three again, adding an extra option to benefit the defence and midfield pivot, and is also perfectly capable of bombing forward to help the creative supply-chain.
Statistically, Niles has been one of the most underrated Arsenal players over the last few years, as a midfielder, he’s a great ball-winner and has both vision and intelligence to break opposition defences down, whereas as a full-back he offers solid defensive duel numbers and is great at progressing the ball into the final 3rd. In the past two league seasons, AMN has won 2.4 and 3 tackles p90, dribbled past an average of 1.2 times p90. The raw numbers aren’t spectacular as he doesn’t play for a side as defensively orientated as Norwich or Forest for instance, but when looking at the ‘possession adjusted’ numbers, Niles fits into the 97th and 95th percentile for pAdj tackles and interceptions p90, affirming the view that he is a capable ball-winner.
I suspect this type of transfer will be greeted with a minimal amount of excitement or anticipation, especially with the current ambivalence towards Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi. But still, this type of signing should be seen as an opportunity to prove to other sides that they’ve let one get away, rather than a derogatory hand-me-down.
Other potential wildcard options Everton could consider this summer include Brighton’s Steven Alzate and Lyon’s Kenny Tete.
The transfer of Alzate is again, incredibly unlikely, but the Colombian international has impressed me in his first Premier League season following a loan spell at Swindon in League 2 last season, proving how far he’s come in the past 12 months. Alzate has mainly been used as a utility-player so far under Graham Potter, but I personally see his future at right-back.
As seen above, he’s superb on the ball, his link-up play is decent and his ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas is one of his biggest assets. He’s also fairly strong defensively too, though his height could be problematic, he’s comfortable contending in the air whilst despite not having natural defensive tendencies, he still averages 2.23 pAdj tackles and 7.48 successful pressures p90 too. Though some stats may be slanted by the fact he’s played in multiple positions, he has the core strengths to permanently adapt to full-back and could suit Ancelotti’s system. This option though is probably more far-fetched than just improbable, this transfer calls for too much creativity and risk that Everton aren’t really in the position to take.
Another option though that does seem more plausible would be the transfer of Kenny Tete. Despite a promising start, Tete’s Lyon career has stalled, but he still offers the characteristics that Ancelotti would want. As pointed out by elpivoteftbl on twitter, Tete has just 12 months left on his current deal meaning he would be available at a cut-price and is also represented by Mino Raiola who helped execute Moise Kean’s moved last summer. Besides the financial circumstances, more importantly, Tete suits what the club are looking for. Despite playing only just over 2,000 minutes in the past two seasons, Tete comes up well as seen in the above data visual, excelling in nearly every category you’d want. He’s superb defensively, most will remember his fantastic performance against Neymar a few years back, and as you’d expect with his Ajax history, he’s good with the ball at his feet too. Similar to Cash & Simakan, Tete would also allow for Ancelotti to use the type of 4-4-2 that he originally set-out with. Tete’s player profile permits for a certain balance in the build-up, with the Dutchman able to sit narrowly.
The amount of right-backs currently available is quite low, and the overall standard isn’t that great either, but Everton need one. Though he may not completely fit what Ancelotti wants, Max Aarons will likely still be preferred choice for most Blues – he brings what originally made Coleman such a top player a few years ago. Aarons has a long way to go, but still, spending £25m on the defender could turn out to be a very smart-buy both short-term and long-term.
The likes of Emerson, Kenny Tete or Mohamed Simakan all offer intriguing cases and could be players Everton look at if their top targets can’t be signed, but my personal choice would be Matty Cash. Cash resembles a bit of a gamble but given the price he could be available at, along with the versatility he brings, he could be exactly what Everton need. Whilst the beforementioned Max Aarons will likely be perceived as the more exciting addition, offering more of an attacking threat and arguably has a higher ceiling, Cash could be the more suitable option. There will be questions around whether he can make the jump from the Championship as there should be, but from what I’ve seen and from what the data shows, emphasises how strong he’s been this season and how he could develop even further in the right system and under the right gaffer. He fits the player profile Ancelotti may well be looking for,