Filling The Need at Center Back: Where Should Everton Look? Part One
Everton need a centerback in January. After missing out on Kurt Zouma in the summer, Everton have been left fragile in the back. Let’s take a look at some possible options.
While it has been a whirlwind of excitement for Evertonians everywhere with Carlo Ancelotti taking the wheel and winning two matches off the bounce as well as a reality check against Man City, the January transfer window is suddenly upon us.
As I wrote in an earlier piece for Toffee Targets, Marcel Brands may dislike the January window, but history shows he’s going to almost certainly do business during it. Ancelotti also indicated in one of his press conferences that Everton may try and bring in a player or two, and with Everton’s injury concerns, it’s needed.
Everton’s Current Center Back Options
Certainly one area of need for Everton is Center Back. While Yerry Mina has been outstanding and Mason Holgate has emerged as an effective player, Michael Keane is the only other center back with the first team and has been inconsistent. Lewis Gibson is likely the 4th option, but he’s still with the U23s and his contract runs out in June. Even if he signs a new deal, the jump from the U23s is significant and he may be a loan candidate. Regardless, Everton needs another center back.
It’s unlikely Brands will bring in an older player with a significant fee as that seems to run counter to his current approach. I believe his time horizon like it was at PSV and AZ is at a minimum 4 years, and any non-loan should consider that timeline and the longer-term development model. The club is also likely pushing up against Financial Fair Play restrictions after suffering a significant loss last season and may look at loans as well as a smaller fee purchase. Everton would also ideally like a left sided player and perhaps one with some ball playing ability and quickness to pair in tandem with Yerry Mina.
Everton has already been linked to several names leading up to this upcoming window. Below we take a look at those mentioned and who might be a good fit for Everton at center back.
Younger First Team Talents
Everton has been linked to several younger center backs that may be able to help some now, but potentially more in the future. Let’s take a look at a few.
Jean Clair Todibo
Jean Clair Todibo, Barcelona, age 20 (as of December 30). L’Equipe and other publications have linked Everton with Todibo. Todibo is a converted defensive midfielder that still plays a bit of DM with the French U20s. He moved in July on a free from Toulouse. He had broken into the first team at Toulouse as an 18-year-old, but since agreeing terms with Barcelona last January, he hasn’t played much first team football. For Barcelona, he played 74 minutes in a 4-0 win against Sevilla and played an excellent 97 minutes in the Champions League in a 2-1 win over Inter.
Based on his appearances for Barcelona and Toulouse as well as his time on the French youth teams, Todibo looks to have the physical tools necessary to be a big time CB. He’s got good size at 6’3”, tremendous acceleration, impressive dexterity and balance for his size, and reads the game well. When he’s in possession, he shows decent ball control, good decision making, advanced composure on the ball, and an excellent ability to dribble out of trouble when needed.
It’s fairly obvious that he started as a defensive midfielder. Where Todibo still looks very raw is in his aerial abilities and his distribution. He doesn’t have great ability to rise up over smaller players and win the ball in the air. His longer distribution is also inconsistent. I would also like to see more aggressiveness when he goes forward to put pressure on a player, but some of that might be tactical and conversely he’s not overcommitting himself. I’m also not 100% convinced with his first touch, yet he has great feet and balance as well as good abilities on the ball when he has brought it under control.
In summary, Todibo has amazing physical and mental gifts that could make him an elite CB. Nonetheless, he is still very raw and might not be able to step in right away and effectively replace either Mina or Holgate. Thus, a loan deal without a purchase option should not be attractive to Everton in my opinion. Other sources have indicated that Everton as well as others – Southampton, Manchester United, AC Milan – are looking at different options including a £20M purchase with a buy back amount for Barcelona, which is customary for them when they are selling youngsters. That is a significant fee for a player that hasn’t played consistent first team football, but the potential is there for that to be a bargain.
Mohammed Salisu, Real Valladolid, age 20. Deportes Diario De Valladolid initially reported that Everton were interested in November and recently, another Valldolid outlet, Pucela Fichajes, reported that Southampton were readying an offer of £10M, even though Salisu has a reported clause of £12M from a contract he signed in May. Manchester United, Newcastle, and Norwich have also supposedly expressed interest and Valladolid’s sporting director Miguel Angel Gomez has already indicated that they are trying to get a new deal done to raise the release clause.
Salisu came over from Ghana from the Accra-based African Talent Football Academy to join the Real Valladolid academy in October of 2017 for 50,000 Euros. This year he has broken into the first team, starting 17 league matches, 2 cup games and having the 3rd most minutes of anyone on the team (including Everton loanee Sandro Ramirez). Valladolid are languishing in 14th and are 6 points from the drop zone, but Salisu is a key member of their team. Salisu is a bit over 6’3”, strong, and left footed. He has a great ability to win the ball has some of the highest aerial and defensive duel win rates in our sample.
Despite his size, he has good feet and amazing recovery speed. His anticipation is good, his balance is decent for his size, and he reads the game well. He misses some tackles and makes some mistakes, but very few considering the league and his age. While he shows some ability on the ball, he is inconsistent, although he is in a side that does not have much possession and thus his longer passing stats don’t look great. He still makes good decisions with the ball, rarely gives it away, and passes accurately with both his dominant left and his right foot.
Lars Lukas Mai
Lars Lukas Mai, Bayern Munich, 19. Otherwise known as Lesse, Lars has decent height at 6’2” and incredible strength – he is built like an absolute tank. He’s made two senior appearances for Bayern and made the bench more than a dozen times, but is still spending most of his time starting at left and right center back for Bayern II. Former Bayern head coach, Jupp Heynckes gave him his debut and have very positive things to say: “Of course, he could have made mistakes, but he didn’t. I’m very satisfied. I was impressed with him in training and then in friendly matches when he looked unruffled. He keeps it simple, is good in the air, and quite good at starting play from the back.” He’s in this category because he would likely only leave Bayern for first team football.
Lars does show good ball skills with a good first touch, accurate passing at all distances, and even some creativity in his ability to run with the ball and create for his teammates. He is also an active and aggressive defender making lots of tackles and interceptions in the opponent’s end of the pitch. However, at times he looks too aggressive. I saw too often on film where Mai took a good angle at an opponent, only to lunge a second too slowly and watch the player go by him.
His anticipation is decent and his change of direction is passable for a bigger player, but his reaction time concerns me and his acceleration and recovery speed do not stand out. His aerial win rate % is very low, too, but I thought he looked just fine in aerial challenges using his strength and positioning to make up for his lack of quickness. Mai signed a new deal in October and seems happy at Bayern. While the likes of Milan and Dortmund have both been scouting him, his game seems more suited to Serie A or the Bundesliga and I can’t see him moving from Germany any time soon. He would likely want a look in the first team at Everton and I don’t see him as being a good fit for the PL.
Younger U23 Talents
Everton has also been linked to a couple central defenders that wouldn’t go straight into the first team, but might be talents for the future. I’m still curious exactly how we are going to circumnavigate an academy transfer ban on players ages 10-18 that doesn’t expire until November 2020, but a couple names brought up recently are worth taking a look at:
Jamie Hamilton, Hamilton Academical, 18. Hamilton is a 6’1” Scottish CB that just turned 18 as of the 3rd of January and has been holding his own in the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton. The former Scotland U17 captain was linked to Wolves and Burnley according to the Daily Mail (I know, I know) who also compared him to former Everton player John Stones and believed he could be had for around £800K.
The Scottish league doesn’t feature a lot of immediate pressure on the ball, nonetheless Hamilton shows a good first touch and advanced ball control and composure that can help him escape under pressure. His longer passing was inconsistent, but he did show an ability to bypass lines on the ground even under pressure. Defensively, he’s not weak, especially for his age, but not strong enough to avoid getting pushed around by stronger senior players.
He doesn’t win a ton of balls in the air, although his positioning appears decent and his balance is good. He simply needs to get a bit stronger and more aggressive, both of which may come over time. His anticipation is decent and he wins a lot of tackles without fouling – in fact, his foul rate is VERY low, which is impressive considering how often he engages in duels. In 1 v 1 situations, you can see that his feet are okay, his balance is good, but his technique leaves a lot to be desired. He stays too upright when closing players down and can’t react fast enough if they change directions, but that may be more to poor technique than a lack of footspeed.
Hamilton is raw, but talented. For a kid that just turned 18, he’s playing at a decent level, has a lot of positive attributes, and is one to keep an eye on. He could improve a lot in my opinion, but I would take a look and see approach if I was Everton
Jarrad Branthwaite, Carlisle United, 17. A couple things jump out at me when I watch clips of Branthwaite. He’s huge. Wikipedia says he’s 6’2”, but Carlisle’s website lists him at 6’5” and he is at least that tall. But he’s not slow, nor is he skinny. He can run with the ball at speed and shows plus athleticism and strength.
Keep in mind, he doesn’t turn 18 until June, so there are also times he looks a bit clumsy and he’s a bit inconsistent. His angles aren’t perfect, his technique isn’t the best when he closes down an attacker, and he’s indecisive at times about when to attack the ball and when to sit back. He has a lot to learn about playing the positions. However, he’s got elite size, his first step is surprisingly fast, and he shows good positional awareness, especially when back tracking.
In terms of ball playing, his first touch is decent, but he is not a good passer that puts pressure on his teammates at times with his erratic delivery. That being said, he can use both feet equally well to the extent that it’s hard to tell his dominant foot and part of his poor passing numbers is due to playing a lot of long balls up the pitch. But it’s a significant area of development. He wins a lot of balls in the air due to having natural size and timing, but when he gets his footwork down, works on how to better position his body, and if he continues to mature, he could be dominant.
He is a poor tackler with a very low success rate, but part of that is due to taking poor angles and inconsistent technique. With his length, first step, acceleration and decent dexterity, he should be dominant in the tackle. It simply goes to show that he has a long ways to go. His coaches rave about his attitude and how well grounded he is and the raw talent is there if developed properly, which his why so many teams are intrigued. It might be worth the reported £750K to £1M price tag to find out how good he can be.
Any with that comes a end to part 1 of center backs Everton should look into. As always, make sure you follow us on Twitter @ToffeeTargets for more up to date Everton transfer news.