Everton Transfer Series: Part 2 – Centre-Backs

In the first part of the transfer series, I had a close look at the right-backs Everton could sign in the upcoming transfer window, with Djibril Sidibe’s loan coming to an end, Jonjoe Kenny’s future uncertain and Seamus Coleman slowly declining – a new right-back will be seen as an integral piece to Everton’s summer business. For different reasons, a centre-back will also be a key part of the transfer window.

In this second part, I will profile both the key players that the club could target, as well as potential wildcard options that would require a further element of risk, but also possible financial gain in the future.

The Current Crop –

During the analysis process, what was clear is how many variables that are available at the back for Everton next season. There is an ambivalence between fans in who they actually think is our best defender; Mason Holgate, or Yerry Mina? Which of those defenders deserves to be the starting centre-back next summer alongside the new signing? Or, transfer-wise, do the club look for a centre-back that actually replaces one of Mina and Holgate, or someone to just challenge the defensive pair instead?

*Note that as much as I like Michael Keane, I’d be doing everything I can to rinse as much money out of him from another club – without European football, Everton just do not need four senior centre-backs, especially with Lewis Gibson and Jarrad Branthwaite waiting in the wings.

From a personal perspective Holgate, is our best centre-back, though the difference between himself and Mina isn’t that big. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean a new defender should be bought in mind to replace Yerry Mina out-right. Since his arrival, Ancelotti has so far relied on a rotational approach, whether it be down to fitness or just utilising the most suitable defender in accordance to the opponent, with the minutes given to each centre-back representing how it’s mainly been Holgate plus one other so far. And that approach could be used again next season.

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Minutes allocated to centre-backs since Carlo Ancelotti’s

From the minutes given to each centre back, it appears that Holgate is seen as the senior defender above Mina and Keane, with the pair alternating to partner Mason at the back. This, in consequence, leads to the two main possibilities that the club could look at in the summer when bringing in a new defender;

  • A straightforward replacement for Keane, preferably someone younger, who can rotate with Mina to mainly partner Holgate
  • a new 1st choice centre-back, Holgate & Mina used in rotation to partner

Although when signing new players, upgrading the starting XI should be seen as the main priority, that doesn’t necessarily mean bringing in new players who are ready to start straight away. Yes, it would be nice to sign someone who is already a certain level above the current crop, having Champions League & international pedigree, but that’s an expensive criteria to meet, and the indications are that Everton won’t have a vast amount of money to spend this summer. However, not being able to spend £30m+ on a new defender, or even buying someone who wouldn’t necessarily be an instant starter, isn’t a sign of weak ambition. In fact, though a new centre-back is needed, Holgate & Mina as a pair are fine, so strengthening the defence isn’t as integral as central-midfield or the right-wing position for instance.

As the previous thread of mine implies, Holgate’s improvements since December could benefit the club massively financially, unless a top-level defender comes available below expected market value, then I personally wouldn’t see it as a necessity to spend a big fee.

When initially planning and shortlisting the possible centre-backs that Everton could realistically look at this summer, it was important (as it should) to actually signify and acknowledge the type of defender Everton need and whether that aligns to the preferences of Marcel Brands and Carlo Ancelotti.

In terms of the profile that Everton may want, a left-footed centre-back still seems the main preference, despite Holgate mainly impressing as the left-sided centre-half. This is where Everton benefit from the sheer amount of variables that they have at the back. Although a left-footer may primarily be seen as essential, Holgate’s form this season alone shows it isn’t, it gave me a certain flexibility when pinpointing the main defenders that Everton should be considering. Still, there are some certain attributes and strengths that I thought were still pivotal;

  • Similar pedigree to Mina/Holgate at least, Champions League potential ceiling
  • Capable of playing either side of defence
  • Strong in the air, above 60%-win rate in terms of aerials, preferably over 6ft2
  • Fairly strong 1v1, comfortable when isolated against pacey attackers
  • Solid positional awareness
  • Comfortable on the ball, showing signs of confidence and creativity when pushing forward
  • Costing no more than £30m

Personal Choices

Gabriel Magalhaes

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  • Nationality: Brazilian
  • Age: 22
  • Club: Lille
  • Position: Centre-Back
  • Other Positions: Left-Back, Defensive-Midfield
  • TransferMarkt Value: £15.75m
  • Expected Value: £25-30m

Though I’ve already stated that signing a new defender with the idea to come straight into the 1st team shouldn’t be seen as a necessity, Lille’s Brazilian rock-at-the-back, Gabriel Magalhaes could be the exception to the rule. The form of Holgate & Mina meant Everton’s defensive pairing is fairly sound, but from a personal perspective, Gabriel is a class above has the ceiling that could see him become a key starter for one of the big teams in Europe.

Most reading this will already be aware of Magalhaes. In recent months it’s become clear that Everton see the Lille man as their top target, which is something I hinted at back in January, Gabriel seems to be the best choice or at least the most attainable out of a certain level of centre-backs. If anything, Gabriel moving from Champions League side Lille to Everton, could be seen as a drop-down for the Brazilian. With the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Napoli and even Real Madrid reportedly interested in Gabriel too, there’s no denying that his transfer could be a potential coup for the football club. At the very least, Everton could be getting a Champions League calibre defender.

As already mentioned, in Gabriel, Everton could be taking their defence to that next level, and when watching him closely over a large sample of games, his quality is clear. Gabriel is a left-footer, like most would prefer, in which all games I’ve seen he’s played out on the left. Though Holgate mainly impressed as the left-sided defender, with the potential signing of Gabriel, Mason would likely be moved back out to the right-side, with Mina and himself alternating to play beside Gabriel for the majority of games. Holgate and Mina though, are different types of defenders and Gabriel is suitable for playing next to either. Even as just a defender, he’s highly flexible. He could play in a back-three if needed, but in Ancelotti’s preferred back-four, he could play either as ‘the stopper’ (besides Holgate for instance due to Mason’s inadequacies in the air) or as a typical ball-playing centre-half which would get the best out of his ability on the ball.

Gabriel definitely passes the eye-test. The Brazilian is quite big and bulky in build but is still pacey and definitely has that burst of acceleration that helps him covering space in-behind or when generally dealing with pacey attackers or counter-attacks. Simply, Gabriel is quite the specimen, he’s physically dominant and commanding, and 1v1 with defenders he seems a pain to come up against (dribbled past 0.3 times p90), frequently overpowering forwards. Though he does have the capabilities to recover in difficult situations, which is always helpful, his awareness and intelligence of the game around him prevents him from using it to drastic extents. Often, you find him quickly nipping the ball, simply picking the ball off opposing strikers, or effortlessly coming from behind the striker to intercept – his style in this case definitely explains his 85.42% tackle success rate. He’s definitely aggressive in the way he defends, but he’s effective in doing so.

Most importantly, Magalhaes is a strong defender, though he’s nowhere near the end product and does have areas that need improving, he is difficult to come up against and would likely be fine adapting to the Premier League, which can always be a worry for a South American defender. I’m sure all Evertonians remember who their last left-footed centre-back was. The Midnight Barbecue Maestro himself, Ramiro Funes Mori.

Though I think it would be unfair to compare Gabriel to Mori, he still has some flaws that could be expected from a Brazilian defender. What’s clear is that Gabriel is fairly sound at contributing to build-up play, under pressure his decision making isn’t always perfect and at times can be quite rash when in tight spaces but is still fairly composed. In the same way, he can sometimes be guilty of ‘over-playing’ too. Maybe it is the South American in him or even just signs of inexperience, yet it seems that he does need to learn that clearing his lines is sometimes more important than keeping hold of possession. But this is small stuff and is easily coachable should Ancelotti see the same problems.

In true South American style though, the Brazilian is stellar on the ball. One of Gabriel’s key strengths is his capability to progress the ball into the attacking thirds, with the 22-year-old attempting 10.1 passes into the final 3rd, which is the second-highest in Europe amongst u23 defenders, he’s also in the 76th percentile for progressive distance amongst all defenders in the Top 5 Leagues too. Gabriel plays in a Lille side that are quite direct, which will help, with Jose Fonte usually beside him, the onus often falls on Magalhaes to be the supply-line for both midfield and attack. Galtier’s side definitely makes use of the Brazilian’s trademark diagonal long-pass too, an attribute I’m sure both Calvert-Lewin & Richarlison would take advantage of too. Lille play quickly and vertically, and similar to Everton in a 4-4-2, so with only two central-midfielders, Gabriel plays a key role in pushing up into midfield to act as another passing option when Lille are attempting to break-down low-block defences especially. If you want to compete at the highest-level nowadays, having centre-backs who are comfortable on the ball is a must.

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When watching Gabriel, it’s pretty clear how good he is, and considering his age, how good he could become. Data-wise, he passes the test the too. His progressive ability on the ball is one of his main attributes, and like already mentioned when compared to other u23 defenders across Europe, he’s one of the best at driving the ball into the key areas of the pitch. The data visual above implies this too, he plays a high amount of both progressive passes (4.31 p90) and also completes 3.84 of his long balls p90 out of 9.7. Whilst the data backs up that he’s fairly comfortable on the ball, it also indicates how strong defensively he. One of the main questions surrounding incoming defenders into the Premier League is their ability to defend long-balls or aerial duels generally, this being another test that Gabriel passes fleetingly. Winning just shy of 3.6 aerials out of 5.5, he’s also in the top ranks for ground duels amongst the big league’s defenders as well, his ground duel win percentage of 69.79% is one of the highest in Europe.

The signing of Gabriel would definitely emphasise the club’s ambition and intent that has already landed Carlo Ancelotti, and though centre-back won’t be seen as a massive priority, if the chance is there to bring him in, and he’s available at a cut-price, it would be too good to turn down. Compared to my initial outlining of what we need and how we should approach signing a new defender, Magalhaes almost contradicts the idea that spending big money this summer wouldn’t be the best idea. But, in comparison to market values previous to the pandemic, a fee between £20-25m rather than £30m could be quite the deal.

Right now, Gabriel is one of the most underrated centre-backs in Europe, he ticks a lot of important boxes and is possibly available at the price of an average, mid-table Premier League player.

Jean-Clair Todibo

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  • Nationality: French
  • Age: 20
  • Club: Schalke, on loan from Barcelona
  • Position: Centre-Back
  • Other Positions: Defensive-Midfield
  • TransferMarkt Value: £8.10m
  • Expected Value: £18-20m

Similar to Gabriel Magalhaes, Jean-Clair Todibo has already been linked with the Toffees, with most seeing the link to the former Toulouse man as a sort-of contingency plan if Gabriel becomes unattainable.

Still, at just 20, Todibo is amongst the recent surge of exceptional centre-back talents coming out of France, alongside the likes of Dayot Upamecano, Dan-Axel Zagadou and William Saliba, equally, Todibo already has a great reputation within Europe with the expectation that Todibo will make it to the top. Still, there remain questions over his development since his Barcelona move last January, which I personally think is unfair. Before the move it was obvious, he had some flaws, but it was nothing that couldn’t mature over consistent game-time. Criticisms remain though.

In terms of profiling the player, Todibo’s height is one of the most striking characteristics, at 6’3 he can appear quite monstrous in comparison to his colleagues or opponents, but it also leads to him coming across as quite awkward or just lanky, almost as if he hasn’t fully grown into his body yet. He is still only 20 in fairness and is still very much continuing to learn the trade.

That type of awkwardness though contrasts his style of play with the ball. His confidence at times is unbelievable for a defender, and though he isn’t perfect when strolling out in-possession, he’s definitely adventurous with the type of passes he plays and even more so when attempting to carry the ball from one box to the other. He’s quite courageous for someone of his position, though I don’t think he’ll get on well with the majority of the ‘Park Enders’, seemingly taking a lot of inspiration from a young John Stones. That confidence is there for a reason though, he’s quite clearly a talented individual and he illustrates that through his flair and his long-destinationless dribbles. But even when overlooking his flamboyance, he passes well and progressively, though he’s not always as accurate but that takes a hit due to the type of passes he attempts, maybe too often attempting ‘Hollywood passes’.

Todibo has shown he can be strong on the ball though, and it could help Everton in other areas too. As of writing, midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin has just been ruled out with another long-term injury, likely not to be seen for the rest of 2020, which will ultimately affect the transfer plans that the club will have already drawn up going into the summer. Consequently, it is important to note Todibo’s history as a midfielder, for parts of his academy career he played as a traditional defensive midfielder rather than a defender – which in terms of his characterisation as a centre-back, adds both some significant strengths but also some flaws too. Besides this, Gbamin’s injury might call for some creativity from the Everton hierarchy this summer, so signing versatile players, as I mentioned frequently when looking at the potential right-backs, could be key. In Mason Holgate, we already have one defender who has shown a sense of flexibility playing in front of the defence, Todibo would add this too.

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The Frenchman does come out quite well when looking at the data, though it is important to stress how misleading the stats can be due to how small the sample size is when looking just at his current spell at Schalke.

Todibo is quite difficult to judge through the data, within the space of 18 months, he’s played for three different clubs that have three quite contrasting styles of play, which clearly impacts the way he measures up in terms of progressing the ball into good areas. Players influence in-possession, particularly when playing at the back, are always impacted by the style of the team they play, Todibo’s time at the three clubs proves that, yet what is significant is that the Frenchman has at least shown the talent to have an effect on the ball. Most will have seen how dismal Schalke have been since the Bundesliga restart, and Todibo has been apart of that, but despite David Wagner’s conservative philosophy, he still shows up well. The Barcelona man is plucking up 5.43 progressive passes p90, which is amongst the best across Europe’s big leagues, and towers over Everton’s current centre-backs too (Holgate 2.49, Mina 2.63, Keane 2.78).

Defensively, the Frenchman looks quite promising too. His metrics benefit from the small sample size again, as he would from playing in a David Wagner side anyway, but his high defensive out-put has seemingly been the one thing that has remained sort-of consistent throughput his short career so far. Though the numbers may differ, they point to the fact that Todibo is aggressive out-of-possession, is quite active in trying to win the ball, and is fine when competing in the air. However, he can equally be guilty of occasionally chasing possession, especially when losing out in an initial duel. From this, he’ll try to make up for it be almost desperately seeking to win the next challenge, even if the ball has travelled to the other side of the pitch, therefore making the defensive structure quite weak. It’s not the greatest trait to have, but if anything is just a sign of a lack of maturity. He can also struggle when isolated 1v1, especially when defending down the channels, but his awkward playing style, and his long legs do help when he is beaten, (though he only gets dribbled past 0.3 times p90 on average since 2018), in terms of how he can recover the ball.

Todibo has some raw edges, both on the ball and defensively, but with patience, he could come good. As seen through the data analysis, it’s significant to represent his limited playing time since his move away from Toulouse, so it is difficult to create an accurate representation of what to expect if he was brought in. Yet despite the lack of consistent minutes, it’s clear he possesses the fundamental traits to potentially become a high-level defender.

There is a sense, that though his potential alone could be worth the purchase, that he would almost need to be wrapped in bubble wrap in terms of the tactical system he’s playing in short-term. Playing on the left-side of a back-three, as seen recently at Schalke, is an example of the complete opposite of this. Placed in a system where he is more protected, alongside a more controlled centre-back partner or even a more defensive-minded full-back could benefit him massively. I’m not one for signing players that need specific type of players around them to work, but Todibo is young, and understandably he does have some raw edges and would need some fine-tuning, but such compromises could be worth it.

If Barcelona are willing to let him go for under £20m, Todibo would be worth the risk and the rewards could be great.

Nico Elvedi

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  • Nationality: Swiss
  • Age: 23
  • Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
  • Position: Centre-Back
  • Other Positions: Right-Back
  • TransferMarkt Value: £28m
  • Expected Value: £20-25m

One of my favourite sides to watch this season has been Marco Rose’s Borussia Mönchengladbach, and amongst some of the German’s star performers has been their left-sided defender Nico Elvedi, who has consistently impressed both in the Bundesliga and the Europa League. Rose’s outfit are the personification of ultra-attacking, but in doing so their defensive cover takes a hit, yet it’s because of this that Elvedi has been able to prove himself even further after some solid seasons previous to the Marco Rose era.

Unlike Gabriel or Todibo, there has been no link to the Swiss international, yet it wouldn’t surprise me if such rumours did occur as we head closer towards the summer window. Despite, there being no transfer links as of yet, Elvedi does seem to fit the criteria for what Everton would want this summer. He’s proven specifically this season that he would be comfortable playing in a system that would leave him more exposed then he would like, proving his worth in being able to defend in quite a high line too, with his positional awareness and intelligence being one of his main attractions. His contract also runs out in 2021 too, so with 12 months left, Everton could possibly get him at a cheaper deal than he’s probably worth.

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The data from this season displays two defining characteristics when it comes to the Gladbach man. Quite clearly, he’s a very astute defender with his high amount of interceptions (2.56 p90 & 2.37 pAdj p90) linking to the idea that he is definitely a defender who reads the game well, often attempting to predict attacking movements or passes before they actually happen. The other main distinctive feature is how reserved he can be on the ball, though he is still fairly strong and is quite smooth at breaking the lines and is comfortable when put under pressure from the high-pressing sides of the Bundesliga.

Elvedi’s aerial ability though does seem to be one of his main weaknesses in his game. He does average below the preferred 60% which is fine, though only competing for 4.9 aerial duels p90 which isn’t that vast in comparison to other Premier League centre-backs, or even just Everton’s centre-halves in general. Michael Keane competes for 8.4 p90, Mina 7.3, and Holgate 3.7. In turn, what’s clear is that Elvedi isn’t necessarily bad when it comes to defending in the air, quantitively, he’s just not that involved. Next to someone like Yerry Mina, that wouldn’t be problematic, but I would worry about a partnership of Holgate and Elvedi, in that the side could suffer in the air. This, however, emphasises the importance of rotation, with Ancelotti keen to rotate in terms of which defenders suit which opposition the most. Elvedi/Holgate could still be used frequently, but Mina would be key when coming up against aerially active defenders such as Giroud, Benteke or Haller.

Borussia-Mönchengladbach-Defensive-Activity-Heatmap-1.-Bundesliga-2019_2020

The above is extracted from a StatsBomb piece from the beginning of the year, with the defensive actions map suggesting that Elvedi’s influence on the Gladbach defence had resulted in the vast majority of opposition attacks coming down the opposing side, implying how much of a defensive force he could be for the club.

Swiss international, Nico Elvedi, could be quite the smart buy for the Blues. His price wouldn’t be astronomical and his performances over the past 18 months have clearly demonstrated how he would be an upgrade on both Mina and Holgate. His ceiling may not be as high as either Gabriel or Todibo, but still, at 23, he still has some way to go development-wise. I like the idea of Elvedi a lot. I think he’d be a safe buy as much as a smart buy – a type of transfer that Marcel Brands would be keen on.

Axel Disasi

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  • Nationality: French
  • Age: 22
  • Club: Stade Reims
  • Position: Centre-Back
  • Other Positions: Right-Back
  • TransferMarkt Value: £7.20m
  • Expected Value: £12-15m

Alongside Jean-Clair Todibo, Axel Disasi has developed amongst this French centre-back revolution, and though he may be the least talked about, Disasi has still been tremendous this season. Last year, he was mainly used as a back-up for Reims but moved up the pecking order following Bjorn Engels’ move to Aston Villa in the summer – in doing so, Disasi forged one of the best defence’s in Europe. With 28 games gone in Ligue 1, Disasi starting 27 of them, Reims have conceded just 21 goals so far, which is second only to Real Madrid in Europe’s top 5 leagues, collecting twelve clean sheets too.

Though the above statistics aren’t always the perfect descriptor for the performance of defenders, yet Disasi has played a big part in the French side’s solidarity at the back this season. Whilst Disasi does resemble the modern-day centre-back, more importantly, he does the basics right. The Frenchman is physically imposing, both visually and in terms of how he defends. He’s a big fella and repeatedly uses his size against the opposition, especially when defending 1v1, his mixture of both strength and pace is an ideal combination for transitioning over to the Premier League.

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Through observing the data throughout the season, Disasi has looked quite promising, though he doesn’t naturally appear to be a strong option in comparison to the other options so far, the potential is definitely there, especially when considering that this is still his first full season playing in a top division – that does also create a further element of risk though too. His defensive out-put isn’t that high, though possibly in a similar way to Nico Elvedi, Disasi’s experienced partner, Yunis Abdelhamid, has been more active in terms of defensive activity, which could explain Disasi’s metrics not being as grand in comparison. When watching the Frenchman, you would struggle to notice his lack of defensive output, however. He appears quite dominant in the air, and assertive in how he defends down the sides, frequently reading the opposition quite well demonstrating quite a strong sense of maturity and football intelligence despite his inexperience.

The Reims man is also quite effective on the ball too, though it remains an area he could improve, his passing metrics are actually quite high. His 3.56 progressive passes p90 is higher than all of Everton’s defenders, whilst his accurate final 3rd passes of 4.11 and 8 attempted long balls p90 is also quite impressive too, and with a potential strike force of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin ahead, this area of his game could, and likely would only get better.

Disasi, as expected, does have some raw parts of his game that need developing. The big defender can sometimes be overly aggressive in the way he marks or covers his man, though his positional awareness his fairly good, he does have a habit of stepping out to try and pinch possession and can be careless in doing so at times. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s good to have defenders who attempt to read attacking movements ahead of them, but it does lead him to getting tight to the strikers he’s marking – Romelu Lukaku proved against Michael Keane a few years back how easy it can be for forwards to turn their man if the defender gets too tight. He can also at times be a tad too lax in possession too, resulting in unnecessary sloppiness, but I’d hope this could be trained out of. He quite clearly has the skillset to become a very good ball-playing centre-half, he just needs the confidence to rely on his ability more than he already does.

All in all, Disasi is an interesting proposition, a couple of months back he was my personal choice and it’s not hard to see why I thought that looking back. He fits a lot of the primary criteria, and with 12 months left on his current contract, Everton could get a steal. Fans would need more patience with this type of signing, he comes with extra risk in comparison to Gabriel or Elvedi, but it seems the type of player that if you don’t act quickly now, you’re likely looking at a £30m defender within the next 18 months if he makes the right move.

Potential Wildcards –

The players analysed so far, have been the options that seem the more sensible or at least most realistic moves for the club this summer. Both Gabriel and Todibo have already been linked, Elvedi definitely seems a Brands-type-signing, whilst Axel Disasi has already been concretely linked to both Arsenal and Southampton. Though I see these four players, as not just my personal choices, but also as the most realistic too, there are other possibilities that the club should be looking at, even if they call for more risk and creativity that club would usually be unwilling to make.

French defenders seem to be the in-thing currently, my mentioning of Disasi and Todibo is proof of that, but France’s top flight, Ligue 1, is also now becoming a breeding ground for top European centre-backs, Gabriel Magalhaes is another example of that. While Gabriel may be seen as the top target that Everton could acquire from that league, there are others that seem appealing too. Marseille’s and former Salzburg’s Duje Caleta-Car is one of them. The Croatian centre-back signed for the French giants back in 2018, but it took until this season for him to really break-out, though he had an ok season in 18/19, the defender has really taken it up a level since the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas.

Whilst at Salzburg, another defender who played under Marco Rose, the Croatian was seen as one of the most promising centre-backs outside Europe’s main leagues. Within Salzburg’s manic, high-pressing system under the German manager, Caleta-Car demonstrated the skillset that makes him so suitable for high-level sides. Yes, at times he can be too aggressive in his defensive style, he makes up for his inexperience with the rest of his game. Despite being quite a tall figure, he’s agile and though he’s not the quickest, he still has an explosive acceleration over short-distance for recoveries. He’s fine defending big spaces in-behind and is comfortable when isolated in the channels. On the ball, he’s risky but progressive with his passing and is comfortable dribbling into midfield if the passing options are limited.

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The visual above envisages a defender who is pretty much good at everything you want. And he is that. He’s nowhere near the finished article, and though I’d love us to show an interest in him, he would probably benefit from another 12 months at Marseille, especially with the likelihood of Champions League football next season.

When looking at the data sets from both of his seasons since his signing from RB Salzburg, the main thing to highlight is how strong Caleta-Car looks in the air. From this season alone, his aerial duel quantity seems quite low, but his win percentage in the air from the past two seasons averages out in the top 15% amongst all defenders in the top 5 leagues since 2018/19, at 72.6%. In comparison to Everton’s defenders over the past two years, Holgate averages 53.1%, Mina 60.9%, and Keane 63.1%.

Duje Caleta-Car could end up being a superb signing. His start in France suggests that he might need more of a settling-in period than the other defenders mentioned so far, but the benefits long-term could definitely be worth it. He’s a striking, composed defender, who would need no invitation to get amongst the scrappiness of the Premier League. He was signed from Austria for a fee just shy of £18m, so he could be a little pricey, but given French clubs are likely to feel the financial hit more than others, if his market value drops, Everton should move.

The financial complexities of the pandemic will result in some rough periods for many football clubs, possibly Everton included. However, other clubs will suffer more than others, and though it may sound harsh, the club has to be ready to exploit opportunities that may not have transpired if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Some clubs won’t be directly affected, but the market most likely will be. Lille, for instance, is a very well-run club, their income from transfers over the last two seasons is over €100m, yet reports say that Gabriel’s supposed transfer fee, could be a lot cheaper than originally thought.

Another example of this could be a lot closer to home. When discussing potential right-back signings for this summer, Norwich City’s Max Aarons was understandably looked at and seems to be the first-choice amongst Evertonians. Although Norwich have been criticised for their defensive contribution this season, there are three players in their defence that could go elsewhere and really improve. Max Aarons is one, Jamal Lewis is another, and young centre-back Ben Godfrey could also benefit big time from moving elsewhere.

Signed from York City for just £150k in 2016, Norwich will make a staggering profit on the defender, no matter where he goes, and Everton could be a smart destination for the 22-year-old. As expected, his first stint in the Premier League this season has exposed some flaws though.

Godfrey initially impressed me at his loan spell at Shrewsbury, but there he played largely in midfield and has since transitioned into a centre-back. He has still excelled as a defender, especially in their Championship winning season, and he was actually someone I touted as an alternative to Kurt Zouma last summer, but sometimes, especially when coming up against more imposing strikers, his lack of experience at the back shows. But as a former midfield, his ability on the ball shines through. Technically, he’s very good, he’s diagonal switches of play are at times majestic, using the fact that he’s a right-footed, left-sided centre-back to his advantage. In the same way, he’s also fairly confident in carrying the ball into the final thirds, which would explain him completing 1.66 and 1.14 progressive runs p90 in the past two seasons.

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Data-wise, Godfrey doesn’t come across as someone who should be a must-buy, he shouldn’t anyway. If some of the players above aren’t achievable this summer, Godfrey would be a solid back-up option and still brings some impressive traits that would benefit the side. Despite playing in a struggling side, the Norwich man has displayed his potential consistently, the clips from his game vs Spurs just before the pausing of football is a perfect demonstration of that.

In terms of his defensive activity, Godfrey seems to lack any direct defensive output, and this is somewhere he needs to improve. He reads the game well, and 1v1 he’s difficult to actually get past, but it would be nice to see him show more aggression in how he defends, especially when left vulnerable by his midfield. It seemed he’d rather back-off from attacking players, conceding ground, rather than facing up to the threat.

Godfrey would come with some imperfections, and there is definitely a sense that he could do with some high-level coaching or at least needs to play within a system in which he isn’t consistently left exposed by the rest of the side. Agility-wise, he’s fine covering space in-behind and is suited to defending down the channels, which proves he would be able to cover enough for Lucas Digne who pushes forward quite frequently.

If other options were not available, Godfrey would be a good option, though preferably I wouldn’t be spending any higher than £20m. His flexibility positionally also helps and considering his age, it’s plausible that he will only improve.

Though Ben Godfrey for example, maybe seen as too much of a risk, there are other players that the club could look at, that despite their risk, would bring a strong upside for the future, and with the strength of Mina & Holgate, this could be a credible option. PSG’s Tanguy Kouassi is expected to leave this summer as a free agent and is another I would like us to look at – following the trend of 1) PSG paying the price for not giving satisfactory pathways for their younger players and 2) my fondness of French centre-backs. Kouassi has actually been given reasonable playing time by Thomas Tuchel this season, especially when you consider he doesn’t turn 18 until the end of this week, but the likes of RB Leipzig, AC Milan & Man City are all interested in signing the defender.

Amongst all the defenders touched on in this article, it’s probably Kouassi who has the biggest ceiling. Aesthetically, the Frenchman is superb on the ball and has shown that by playing in midfield too. He’s also pretty astute defensively too, even despite his age he shows quite staggering levels of football IQ, though does have lapses of concentrations at times that would need be trained-out. The signing of Kouassi would be quite left-field, and if he did sign, probably wouldn’t be ready to start games consistently for 18 months, though he could provide cover. Would I then sell Keane if Kouassi came in? Probably not. The idea of Kouassi is nice, you’re looking at one of Europe’s best defenders in the future if all goes well, and it’s this type of signing that Evertonians would expect from Marcel Brands.

Conclusion –

Throughout this analysis piece, what is clear is the amount of options Everton have this summer. Preferably, a new starting centre-half will be signed, and the upgrading of the squad will continue, but there is no emergency for one, and if money is needed elsewhere, someone like Axel Disasi would be a smart signing. Despite the risks that they would bring, Jean-Clair Todibo and Duje Caleta-Car would be good signings too, and if Everton can take advantage of a disfigured market, then either would be clever purchases.

Yet, having watched Lille repeatedly over the past few months, looking at numerous players that could suit the club, Gabriel should be the first-choice. In comparison to other options, and Everton’s current defenders too, the Brazilian is simply a level above. The defender would come in and have an immediate impact, is a lot more suited to the Premier League in terms of his built and physique and adds that pedigree that both Brands and Ancelotti will be looking to add.

2 thoughts on “Everton Transfer Series: Part 2 – Centre-Backs

  1. I’m curious on your thoughts regarding Malang Sarr. He’s left footed, extremely experienced for a 21 year old (88 starts in Ligue 1 to date with a 6.73 rating per whoscored), a phenomenal passer (89% for his career), and most importantly, he’s FREE.

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