Sean Dyche must stick to his guns as Michael Keane not good enough to start for Everton
After losing Yerry Mina and Conor Coady from their centre-back options for the season, Everton made the decision not to make any signings in that area.
Jarrad Branthwaite returned from a loan spell at PSV Eindhoven while Mason Holgate also moved out on loan to Championship side Southampton, and the options at the back were set.
James Tarkowski, Michael Keane, Branthwaite and Ben Godfrey are Sean Dyche’s bets for the position, with Tarkowski and Keane starting the season together to reunite their partnership from the back-end of last season and their Burnley days.
But after a 1-0 defeat to Fulham on the opening day of the season and a 4-0 thrashing away at Aston Villa in the first two games of the season the manager immediately decided there was a need for change.
Keane was dropped from the team and youngster Branthwaite came into the side, but the results didn’t change with a 1-0 loss to Wolves following that. But the performance was strong, and then a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United followed in a game Everton will feel they should have won.
Many believe the answer could have been a new centre-back to go alongside Tarkowski, although his performances have been underwhelming, but the stats (via Whoscored) show Branthwaite is the right option right now.
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Over the first four games of the season the two players have played 180 and 181 minutes respectively, meaning the sample size is fair to compare.
Branthwaite, an academy product, has made more successful tackles, more interceptions, caught more players offside, made more clearances, been dribbled past less and made more blocks than Keane in that time.
In fact, the only parameter that Keane excels in over the 21-year-old is fouls committed.
But if you feel that sample size is too small, you can take it back to last season where both played fairly regularly.
Keane came back into the team after Frank Lampard was sacked and was a regular under Dyche in the second half of the season. From 983 minutes he beats Branthwaite out when it comes to how many offsides he forced, clearances, being dribbled past less and making more blocks.
Branthwaite still made more successful tackles, more interceptions and committed less fouls over the season, but it should also be noted that he played in a far more attacking team.
PSV Eindhoven were competing in Europe and fighting for the Eredivisie title, which automatically means he had far less defending to do than Keane while Everton were in a relegation battle.
So when it comes to their ability on the ball, it’s quite clear that Branthwaite is levels ahead and the stats back that up too.
Branthwaite made more key passes, averaged more passes per game and had a much better pass success rate. But for those who argue that Dyche doesn’t play that style of football, Branthwaite also averaged more successful long passes per game than Keane too.
The results haven’t been good enough yet this season, but Dyche is building and still trying to figure out what his best starting lineup is.
There are decisions to make at the top end of the pitch with so many attacking options now, but the defence is arguably more important because we have less options.
Dyche made the big call to bring Branthwaite into the side and now he must stick to his guns by keeping him in despite his age and a lack of immediate change in results. He’s the better option between him and Keane, and it isn’t close.
In other Everton news, club not guaranteed a fee from Al-Ettifaq for Demarai Gray despite transfer being agreed.