Everton have started the season with solid defensive displays, however after failing to sign last season’s loanee, Kurt Zouma, on a permanent deal, the club did not sign a replacement for the French centre-back. This may turn out to be a mistake, given the lack of depth in this position. Make sure to check out the Toffee TV YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FXjXO9Tvg0&t=5s

Both Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma impressed particularly towards the conclusion of the 2018/19 campaign, with Everton earning more league clean sheets in 2019 than any other side except Manchester City. The pair formed a balanced partnership, with Keane providing an ability to read the game and play out from the back, whilst Zouma provided physicality and pace.

Nevertheless, following the end of the transfer window which saw Everton not replace the exiting Kurt Zouma, Evertonians were questioning whether this was a mistake. The club now only have Michael Keane, Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate, and a 19 year-old Lewis Gibson as centre-back options. New signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin is capable of playing the role but is expected to primarily play in place of Idrissa Gueye in defensive-midfield.

The dismay felt by Evertonians following the failing to sign Kurt Zouma was soon reduced after seeing the Frenchman’s awful display in Chelsea’s Premier League opener against Manchester United. Zouma looked nervous on the ball, giving possession away on a number of occasions, as well as conceding a penalty which led to United’s first goal of four.

Some Everton fans reacted to this performance by suggesting Zouma was made to look good at Everton alongside a very capable Michael Keane. There may be some truth in this accusation, especially when comparing the last season’s league statistics of the former centre-back partners.

Despite Michael Keane only making one more appearance than Kurt Zouma, he appeared to handle the majority of the defensive work. Keane made 22 blocks to Zouma’s 12, 41 tackles to Zouma’s 32, as well as 1 last-man tackle to Zouma’s 0. Keane also made 183 clearances to Zouma’s 120, 115 headed clearances to Zouma’s 63, and 192 aerial battles won to Zouma’s 98.

Regardless of this, it was evident when watching the side that Zouma’s pace was necessary at times. This may be a worry going forward, with a slow Yerry Mina partnering a similarly slow Michael Keane this season. A centre-back partnership so lacking in pace could be exposed in games against opposition with pacey forward lines.

Furthermore, if Yerry Mina was to have injury problems similar to those he endured last season, Everton would probably look to Mason Holgate to start games at centre-back, alongside Michael Keane. Although he’s looked promising at times, Holgate is yet to prove to be as good as the likes of Keane, Mina, and Zouma.

Having said this, both Mina and Keane have impressed during Everton’s opening Premier League fixtures against Crystal Palace and Watford. With a 93% pass accuracy, 5 clearances, 3 interceptions, and 3 successful aerial duels against Crystal Palace, as well as a 8 clearances, 2 interceptions, and 6 aerial duels won against Watford, Mina has put in performances to indicate he’s more than good enough to consistently play first team football.

If both Yerry Mina and Michael Keane can stay fit throughout the season, Everton should be fine, yet the lack of recovery pace between the two may become problematic eventually. Regardless of this, Evertonians should be pleased that the club didn’t panic buy a poor-quality centre-back on deadline day. Eliaquim Mangala comes to mind.

Everton have yet to concede a goal at home since early February, with 10 clean sheets in 13 league games. The club have the second most amount of clean sheets in 2019 (only behind Man City). Mina seems to be contributing to a continuation/improvement of this defensive solidarity, but if either him or Keane are unable to play, there may be vulnerabilities due to the lack of depth.

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BILLY MINSHALL