Full-Back Abyss

Martin O'Connor 06/03/2020 19comments  |  Jump to last

With Carlo Ancelotti wanting to give Leighton Baines another 1-year extension to his contract and hoping he decides to stay on at the Blues for another season, this brings into focus the lack of quality we have in the full-back position. As we now know Carlo’s position on Baines, let's look at the left-back position first.

The signing of Lucas Digne in 2018 has proved to mainly be a success and he had a very good first season for the toffees winning player of the season (which he was not; that accolade should have gone to the greatly missed Gana). But we can all agree that Digne has been a relative success and links particularly well with Bernard when he is in the side. This season, Digne has not hit the heights of last season and still, for my liking, gives away too many cheap free-kicks. But, as a first-choice left-back at this present time in the Blues' development, he is good enough, which brings us back to Leighton Baines.

Baines has been a great servant for the Club and has not let us down in the few games he has played this season. But what you want in all positions at a football club is two players to challenge each other in every position. Do we really think that, at 35, Leighton is actually a challenger for Digne’s spot in the team? The answer to this is emphatically no. Baines is nowadays at best just cover; he can fill in for a couple of games. But if Digne was out injured for any length of time could Baines fill in for a long stretch in the team. The answer must be he could not.


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Age and time stands still for nobody. At 35, Leighton Baines is nowhere near the player who used to bomb up and down on the left; maybe he can do it for one or two games but he is nowhere near the whippet of his youth. Add to this his very questionable fitness record over the last two seasons — he now constantly picks up knocks, niggles and strains where before he never did. I think another contract for Baines would be a mistake which would ultimately come back to bite us next season.

A new youthful left-back is what is needed to come in and challenge Lucas Digne who at present knows that if he is fit he walks into the team. But at least we have one player in Digne who can do a job on the left, which is at least something compared to the worrying situation we have in the right-back spot.

First, let's get the Jonjoe Kenny question out of the way. Once seen as a shoo-in to be the natural successor to Seamus Coleman, Kenny never grasped the chance in the first team when he had starts, especially in the period when Seamus had his broken leg. Too many mistakes came from him and the marauding down the right, which he produced for the Under-23s, seemed to vanish from his game.

Still only 22 Jonjoe has been packed off to the Bundesliga and Schalke this season. Schalke seem happy with him and admittedly he has played some good games but when you read ridiculous things, especially in the Liverpool Echo, of how great he has been doing at Schalke – when it is clear the reporters writing this have not even watched any of his games – amazes me.

It’s not hard to catch Schalke games. I have seen Schalke live at least 10 times maybe more this season. Jonjoe's attacking instincts are back in his game but defensively he still lacks the highest quality. He had an awful game in just his 2nd game for Schalke giving away a penalty after being turned inside out by Kingsley Coman in a game Schalke went on to lose 3-0. He also gave a penalty away at bottom club Paderborn in a game Schalke eventually won 2-1. He has struggled against Monchengladbach and has been awful in the two 5-0 defeats which Schalke have suffered against Bayern and Leipzig in the last few weeks. The way Danilo went past him for Leipzig’s 4th goal a few weeks ago was particularly concerning.

To be fair to Jonjoe Kenny, the wheels have come off Schalke since the Winter break and the whole team is out of form, but his mistakes still should be noted from an Everton perspective. At the Club's January AGM, Marcel Brands name-checked Jonjoe Kenny and it seems clear the Blues see him coming back in the Summer. I am not against this but I think during the pre-season it will be decided that he is not the answer for right-back. If Schalke put in a bid for Jonjoe, than I think we should bite their hand off for a deal.

Brought in on a season-long loan while Kenny was sojourning in Germany, Djibril Sidibé is quite frankly nowhere near good enough. In the article “Marks on a Window” I wrote this on Sidibé:

“He switches off in games, has no positional sense, and has been injury-prone over the last few seasons.”

Although his injury record has mainly stood up this season, he exhibits awful positional play where he is constantly caught out of position. Brighton’s winning goal at the Amex is one example, not to mention the horror show at the Devil’s playground in December, being just two examples. For god’s sake, he can’t even remember to put his socks on!!!

A great crosser of the ball who can be a threat going forward, his first port of call is to defend and he is just not very good at it. Even when he gets forward, he constantly gets caught out up the pitch if the opposition win the ball back and spring a quick counter-attack. Monaco are asking a price of £12 million if we want to sign Sidibé when his loan ends, which is £12 million too much for me.

So we are left with Seamus Coleman, who can still do a job defensively but has been in decline for the last three seasons, a decline which has increased since his comeback from his broken leg. Like Baines, he is a great servant to the Club but whose time with the Blues is rapidly running into the sand. Which in my view leaves us with not one right back of sufficient quality.

Kyle John, at just 19, is making good progress with the Under-23s but he is still nowhere near ready for the first team, although he is one to keep an eye on for the future.

So although the debate has been around signing a centre-back, midfielder and right-winger in the Summer, the void at left-back, where we have one player fit for first-team duty – and, more worryingly in my eyes, none of sufficient quality at right-back – may well come back to haunt us next season if not fixed during the summer.

Emergency call to Zeki Çelik, please!

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Reader Comments (19)

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Jerome Shields
1 Posted 06/03/2020 at 13:46:38
I agree with the sediments expressed in this article. But it is increasingly becoming apparent that Everton needs a lot of sorting out, against a background of prior enforced constraints and change has to be prioritised as a result. This now looks a job beyond Ancelotti's existing contract, which he has already muted.
Peter Warren
2 Posted 06/03/2020 at 14:54:53
Martin, first off, really enjoyed the article and hadn't thought much of those positions, other than right-back, until I read your article. I agree with most of what you say. However, I think for Everton, you go too far.

Given the state we are in with lack of leaders, I see no option to keep Baines on who, despite not being able to play every week is still quality (perhaps I'm bit starry-eyed) and still a very good back-up option. I agree with Carlo that we should sign him up. I think you are being idealistic thinking we should have 2 people at left-back, challenging that position. Unfortunately, we can't afford it and have more pressing needs in midfield (and right-back).

At right-back, I think all 3 you mention are adequate back-ups only. Personally out of the three, I would not keep Sidibé although he too gives 100%. I must admit I have not seen much of Kenny this season but he is young and on an upward curve. That all said, like you, I would probably accept the money in close season unless he looks ready to start. That means my money on Coleman being sole right-back on our books and we need another.

To me, we need to get quality in at right-back, that is crucial, and somebody who hopefully is as good as Digne. If we got somebody as good as Baines has been, that would be unbelievable, but I believe we have been blessed with Baines; he must be one of the best buys and players this club has ever had.

Des Farren
3 Posted 06/03/2020 at 15:38:02
A good article with a few home truths thrown in. Baines, despite what many think of him on here, is nowhere close to the player he once was.

The decision, such as it was, to offer terms for a further year, appears more financial in nature than performance-related. We really must be skint. It could end badly for both parties.

John Boswell
4 Posted 06/03/2020 at 16:13:37
If the rumour of us chasing a young Brazilian centr- back are true, could we be heading for a back 3 system, thereby negating the need to buy several full-backs as first choice and backup?

With one additional, quality, centre-half, we can focus on our weak midfield options and look to bring in a left-footed right midfielder.

A new balance to the team, solid at the back, strong in the middle of the park and scary (to the opposition) going forward.

A new style of playing, not necessarily 4-4-2, from our Carlo — what is not to like?


Kieran Kinsella
5 Posted 06/03/2020 at 16:57:28

The problem with your logical assessment is the reality of the game. You're never going to be able to have two quality left-backs for any length of time. Either the older guy keeps his spot and the younger guy stagnates and seeks a move, eg, Robinson, Kenny. Or the younger guy makes the spot his own, and the experienced guy demands a move to get first-team football elsewhere.

If you're Man City, with more room on your wage bill and 60 odd games per season, then yeah, you can just about keep all parties happy. But if you're Everton and averaging 41 games per season, it's nigh on impossible to keep two quality players happy for any length of time unless one of them is an old-timer like Baines, Stuart Pearce, Steve Bould, Phil Jagielka, etc who can still do it on occasions but realizes he probably can't hack it on a weekly basis.

Mike Allison
6 Posted 06/03/2020 at 17:30:36
If we're not in Europe, we can't have two ‘first choice' players for every position. Getting into Europe, then using the squad well so that everybody gets the game time they need, is the key to having two quality players in each position.

If you're only playing domestically, you can't have too big a squad or players stagnate, as we've seen with many of ours, including promising youngsters, in recent seasons.

Jerome Shields
7 Posted 06/03/2020 at 23:15:46
It could increasingly look that it was a mistake to let Robinson go and give Baines a 1-year extended contract, as well as being bad business. Baines was unavailable at the start of the season due to injury.
Derek Thomas
8 Posted 07/03/2020 at 08:51:40
As always we're just... fill in here... players away from the top 4, 5, 6.

Personally, I won't be happy until our present 1st 11 (whatever that maybe) is our back-up squad.

Steve Shave
9 Posted 07/03/2020 at 09:17:51
Based on Baines's 'uber professional' performance against Man Utd, I think he can do a job for one final hurrah next season (reduced wages of course) and an agreement in place for a testimonial which would be much deserved.

One of my favourite all-time Blues but it's not just the old Everton sentiment talking here for me, he looks after himself and is an able deputy. Delph can also fill in there, don't forget.

I agree though, right-back needs an overhaul. Personally, I would pass on Sidibé and look to move Coleman on for buttons and buy a new right-back; good shout on Celik.

David Midgley
10 Posted 07/03/2020 at 10:14:32
Informative and thought-provoking read.

Yes, our fullbacks need reappraising and is a position we have probably neglected but do we have enough scouts checking the UK? Look at Liverpool's fullback from Hull. How did Silva miss him?? He was his manager!! Was Antonee Robinson leaving a mistake?

Have you ever had a car that you really liked, you could have sold it for a good price, got a newer, better model but kept it too long and then it starts to give you problems, then it's not worth much?? When it comes to our players, I think Everton have been guilty of this for a long time.

How will Brexit impact on bringing players here from abroad? Trying to balance winning more games with giving young blood a chance is very difficult. But then you'll never know till you're standing in the trench.

Interesting times ahead.

Steve Carse
12 Posted 07/03/2020 at 11:58:47
David (11),

I don't think selling Robinson was a mistake and I think we were seriously looking at Robertson years before Silva and then Liverpool were... but, for some reason (financial?), we didn't sign him.

There's enough decent full-backs around. The issue is getting our hands on someone who is more than decent. And who qualifies under that description depends a lot on whether the requirement is for someone who is, first and foremost, a good defender, or someone who can get up and down the flanks and put in good crosses.

Robert Tressell
13 Posted 08/03/2020 at 08:07:00
Whilst I agree, I think the crap options in midfield today illustrate why we need to put up with sub-par full-back options for another season. Otherwise, we spread the transfer kitty too thin.

Personally, I'd love Ait Nouri of Angers as deputy left-back and Aarons of Norwich as first-choice right-back. But better to get a top-class centre-mid (eg, Rabiot) plus a top-class left-footed right-winger (eg, Oddgaard) this summer and address full-back in Summer 2021 when a lot of the so far unshiftable crap will depart on free transfers, giving us a bit more to play with in terms of transfers.

Digne and Kenny in the 2020-21 season is the not-too-bad pragmatic approach.

Tony Abrahams
14 Posted 08/03/2020 at 08:48:10
It might just be me, Robert, but most of our problems are stemming from midfield at the minute. We also struggle at the back, but midfielders wanting and then being brave on the ball, is where we lack imo.

Last week when Man Utd scored, we made a catalog of errors from the second we took the goal-kick, right up until the ball ended up in our net, but was Walcott brave enough when Sidibe's ball went that little bit astray?

Don't think I'm blaming Theo for the goal because I'm not, but I'd love to ask him a logical question, and it would be that, could he have still got to that bad ball off his fullback, and maybe received a free-kick?

He might answer no, but I also know I've seen loads of players down the years who I wouldn't have had to ask that question to, but we all see a different game, and that's what I'm seeing at the minute.

Duncan Adams
15 Posted 08/03/2020 at 09:25:26
I'd agree with Tony #14, that midfield needs sorting first. I think Digne will be fine next season and I'll be happy for Baines or even Gibson to cover. We probably need to settle on a first-choice right-back but I would prefer to see any investment in two, top quality, first-team midfielders rather than 5 or 6 squad fillers across a range of positions.
Rob Dolby
16 Posted 08/03/2020 at 10:00:17
I honestly don't think our full-back options are that bad. In previous seasons, Baines and Coleman haven't had any competition at all.

Digne and Baines still have quality delivery. Coleman can still play a role when fit. I would let Sidibé go and bring Kenny back.

As already mentioned above, midfield is the big issue. A couple of quality midfield additions would see our defensive and offensive records improve.

Martin (OP), I think if you reviewed the midfield, it would be a real horror show.

Declan Campbell
17 Posted 08/03/2020 at 10:35:58
David Midgley,

Robertson signed for Liverpool in 2017, when Koeman was Everton manager. So Silva couldn't have done anything about that.

David Midgley
18 Posted 08/03/2020 at 13:09:41
Declan #17

Oops !

Sam Hoare
20 Posted 10/03/2020 at 09:44:09
Sadly, I'm not convinced by Kenny. Certainly decent and could well develop into a Premier League regular but I can't see him ever being a top 6 player. I think despite all his heart he lacks the physical capacities for a top-class modern full-back and he's not the best technically; that's unlikely to change hugely over the next 10 years.

He could certainly be a good backup but I suspect he will want more than that. If Schalke were prepared to offer us £15M plus (which looks increasingly unlikely), I'd snap their hands off. Put that together with the £12M we save from not buying Sidibé and you can buy Aarons, Atal or Klostermann.

CM, CB, RM and RB needed this summer.

Also it's a real shame that the academy has not produced many first-team options for the last 2-3 years. Gordon is the only one I can think of who's even had a sniff. Usually there's some fast energetic youngsters who can do a good job at full back (The RS have about 6!).

Matthew Williams
21 Posted 13/03/2020 at 13:43:27
Kenny and Garbutt will do us fine when they come back; we have a much more pressing need in midfield... Zero Creativity!!!

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