Mason Holgate was signed by Roberto Martinez in what seems like an age ago, however it is just under six years ago, on 13th August 2015. He joined the Blues for a fee of around £2 million pounds.
Up until this season, it could be argued that Holgate was one of the best signings that Martinez made during his tenure (Leandro Rodriguez and Shani Tarashaj anyone?). Signed from Barnsley, some Evertonians labelled him as the next John Stones, from the Barnsley routes, and both predominately ball-playing centre-back profiles.
Whilst Stones left the club in 2016, Holgate is still here and although his form dipped this season, he has remained an integral part of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad, whether it be at centre-half, right-back, or even from the bench.
His versatility gave Everton another alternative. During the 2019/20 season, Holgate’s versatility was useful to Ancelotti, as he was deployed along the backline as well as in defensive midfield, on a number of occasions.
However, this season, mistakes in his game have become more noticeable. There was crossing calamity at home to Tottenham, as well as Aston Villa and Sheffield United when in possession, that lead to goals. As the season has progressed, some Evertonian opinions of Holgate have changed from a reliable centre-back into a flimsy one. This article will provide an in-depth look at how Holgate has developed as a player in the last three seasons, highlighting his loan move to West Bromwich Albion, to arguably being Everton’s best player during the miserable 2019-20 season, to whether his drop in form is as serious as it seems.
2018/19 – West Brom
Mason Holgate joined West Brom on 31st December 2018, 2 months after his last appearance for the Blues.
It was great to see a young player take the initiative to go out on loan to get first-team experience in a league that has significantly aided young players development. He was used primarily at right-back by then manager James Shan, and as showed by the graph below, excelled defensively.
On average, he was successful in 11.46 times in his defensive actions, won 67.88% of his defensive duels and won over half of his aerial duels, which is impressive for Holgate as he is not the tallest defender in football. One aspect that Holgate needed to improve in was his passing. Remarkably, he had one of the lowest passing accuracies in the 2018/19 Championship season, with 65%. For a ball-playing defender and a player used mostly at right-back, this statistic is not great.
Back to how Holgate performed generally, he played 21 times for the Baggies, scoring one goal, and helping them to the play-offs where they were knocked out by eventual winners Aston Villa.
Holgate’s move to the Baggies massively benefited him, allowing him to play week in week out in a high intensity, demanding league. Playing first-team football for a top team in the Championship allowed Holgate to not only develop as a player, but also mature as one as well. Before Holgate moved on loan to West Brom, he was a rash and reckless centre half, only interested in the physical aspects of the game.
But after he returned from his loan move, he became a much more mature, confident player, whilst his all-round play became a lot better as well. Moves like Holgate’s can benefit other youngsters, for example Ellis Simms, eleven goals in twenty-three games for a Blackpool side who has achieved promotion, and Anthony Gordon, who has been on loan at Preston since January.
Previously, there may have been an argument for Tom Davies to go out on loan, but this season he really developed under Ancelotti.
Davies burst onto the scene in 2017, with perhaps his most memorable game the 4-0 demolishing of Manchester City at Goodison Park. It was argued that before this season, Davies had not kicked on in his Everton career. He has made over 100 appearances for the Blues, and the majority of Evertonians did not know what his best position was. Was it the no.6 position? Traditional no.8? Or as an attacking midfielder? No one knew where it was but seeing him transform under Ancelotti, often at the base of the midfield, this season has answered that question.
But back to Holgate, whilst only being a West Brom player for half a season, he was exceptional, and it helped him become the Everton player he is today.
2019/20 – Regular Everton Action
During the 2019/20 season, Holgate was arguably our best defender, which is why he rightly received the Player’s Player of the year award.
Holgate led the way last season when it came tackles (from a minimum of 600 minutes played). As the graph below shows that Holgate was Everton’s best defender last season on two fronts.
Holgate won just over 70% of his defensive duels, compared to Yerry Mina who won around 65% – below average according to the graph.
In terms of PAdj sliding tackles (PAdj meaning possession adjusted), Holgate again was Everton’s best defender. He ranked well above the average at 0.72 sliding tackles, compared to Mina’s 0.62. You can also vaguely make out where other Premier League defenders ranked last season, making Holgate’s numbers all the more impressive.
It was great to see Holgate improve not only in this department, but also a defender overall. He became a much more confident player, his game seemed to have matured and he seemed to have cut out the silly mistakes that used to be in his game.
Below is another graph, that helps us to look at Holgate’s numbers from the 2019/20 season in much more detail.
Out of Everton’s three main centre-backs last season, Holgate played the second-greatest number of minutes with 2462. (Michael Keane made 2586, and Yerry Mina 2282). And his stats from the 2019/20 season reflect just how good he was.
As we can see from the graphic Holgate’s passing was something to note, 79.1% long pass completion, with nearly 84% pass completion. This is a significant improvement from his time with West Brom (see graphic above).
What Holgate lacks in his interceptions – 1.21, he was very good at congesting the space around him – 3.36 successful pressures for example.
To take Michael Keane for example, his pass completion was 82.8% which is less than Mason Holgate, despite playing more minutes than him. Everton utilised Holgate’s passing ability when they could last season, and at times it proved fruitful, splitting defences, and causing havoc.
To sum up the statistics, Holgate was quite comfortable on the ball and he would be a nice centre-back to play in front of, if a midfielder liked the ball being played into him.
A calf injury ruled him out of the last few games of the season, but on the whole for Mason Holgate, the 2019/20 Premier League season was a success.
2020/21 – A Season to Forget?
Holgate’s start to the 2020/21 season was disrupted by an ankle injury, which kept him out from 18th September – 6th November 2020. And it is safe to say that Holgate did not seem the same player after this injury.
One thing that did not change significantly after his injury was his passing which the following graphic shows. Holgate attempted on average 47 passes per 90 minutes and had a pass completion of 80.3%.
Whilst this was a decline on the pervious season, it is still a pretty high pass completion rate – although Mina’s was 90.4% and Michael Keane’s was 88.8%.
Holgate’s interceptions and blocks on the other hand did drop a fair bit. He averaged 1.21 interceptions and he applied pressure very effectively in the 2019/20 season.
But this season his interceptions and his blocks have dropped a lot, as the following graphic demonstrates:
Holgate falls into one of the lowest percentiles in the league for passes intercepted – 6, averaging 1.14 per 90 minutes, and for passes blocked he falls into the 24th percentile, averaging 0.69 per 90.
To put it into perspective, both Yerry Mina and Michael Keane have better stats in this area than Mason Holgate. Holgate’s decline this season has been noticeable not just in the statistics above but also through watching his performances as a fan.
Some performances, particularly towards the end of the season were particularly shocking to watch as a fan – the 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham, the 2-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa, the 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield United, and finally the disgraceful 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Starting with the Tottenham game, Spurs’ two goals came about from two defensive mistakes, from the partnership of him and Michael Keane. Harry Kane scored both goals, and they seemed to be his only two touches inside our penalty box.
The mistakes in both the Aston Villa and Sheffield United games were more or less the same. Only in the Aston Villa game it led to Ollie Watkins scoring the opening goal, and in the Sheffield United game he made a poor pass back which was intercepted by Daniel Jebbison and he nearly made it 2-0 to Sheffield United.
Finally, the last game of the season against Manchester City was awful to watch. The defending for the third and fourth goals were criminal and spoke volumes of a defender who looks a completely different shade of himself.
To conclude, Mason Holgate’s rise to the Everton first team has been nothing short of remarkable in the last few years. From Championship loanee to Everton regular, it has been a sort of meteoric for him.
However, the 2020/21 Premier League season has been his trickiest season to date, and with the signing and emergence of Ben Godfrey, his place in the Everton first team, and even in the squad maybe under jeopardy.
This coupled with the rumours that Everton are interested in signing another centre-half, one can only hope that Mason Holgate rediscovers his form and becomes an Everton regular once again.