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Everton’s summer transfer activity so far has been hugely exciting. Already they have confirmed the arrivals of 23-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland and 24-year-old Dutch playmaker Davy Klaassen from Ajax.
However, in their bid to challenge the Premier League’s top six, the Toffees are unlikely to stop there. And nor should they, with several areas of the team needing to be strengthened. One position of specific focus is that currently occupied by Phil Jagielka.
The Everton captain has admitted that he is uncertain of his future at the club, telling Sky Sports News: “It is not really about me and what I hope. Obviously I will get time off with the rest of the lads and prepare myself to go back for preseason and see where the land lies.”
At the age of 34 and with one year left on his contract, in reality it is irrelevant whether Jagielka stays or goes this summer. Either way, his long-term successor must be found soon.
Here, Football Whispers considers four players who could replace the experienced centre-back at the heart of Everton’s defence.
So good was Aké during his six-month loan spell with Bournemouth last season that, come January, it was decided that he would return to Stamford Bridge to compete for a first team place. However, six months further down the line, he looks set to depart once again, this time for good.
The 22-year-old Dutchman failed to win a regular berth in Antonio Conte’s starting line-up, with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta forming a solid back three without him. And, in a bid to further his development and fulfil his hefty potential, he could soon move on.
Aké is a Bournemouth transfer target and recent reports suggest he is close to joining the Cherries on a permanent basis for a fee of around £20million. But Everton would be wise to enter the race and do whatever is required to convince the player to sign for them instead.
Just as they did with Romelu Lukaku, the Merseyside club could offer the youngster a safe route away from Chelsea to Premier League stardom. He has the muscle and aerial force to command, but more importantly he has the technique and distributive qualities to settle well to Ronald Koeman’s tactics.
Last season, Aké completed 88.8 per cent of his passes in league action. Not only was that six per cent higher than Jagielka’s success rate, but it was higher than any Everton starter bar Morgan Schneiderlin’s 89.9 per cent.
Scoring goals may have been an issue for Middlesbrough last term, but keeping them out certainly wasn’t. Indeed, their 53 goals against was the best defensive record in the entirety of the Premier League’s bottom half, and was only nine more than seventh-placed Everton let in.
Relegation was somewhat inevitable because of Boro’s aforementioned offensive shortfalls, but a number of defenders could be set to spark bidding wars for their signatures following impressive individual displays for the club in 2016/17. Chambers is one of them, though he may end up returning to Arsenal.
“This season has been so important for me, playing games as a centre-back. The experience I have gained in that position just from playing is so valuable to me. I just feel it's just pushed me on another level,” he said recently. “We have to see what happens. I'm an Arsenal player and I'll be going back in for pre-season and concentrating on that.”
Returning to his parent club rejuvenated with form and confidence on his side, Chambers may also be boosted by the fact Arsene Wenger has a newfound appreciation for the back three. This will only enhance the 22-year-old’s chances of regular game time, but if not he should look elsewhere.
With his versatility – he can play at centre-back or right-back – as well as experience for his age, the Arsenal man could be a sound addition to the Everton back line, taking Jagielka’s spot in the coming years.
If Chambers does indeed secure a place in the Arsenal first team, it’s highly unlikely that a move to Everton would be on the cards. However, the Toffees may be more interested in Gibson, the 22-year-old’s central defensive team-mate last season.
At 24 years of age and standing at 6’1”, he is slightly older and taller than his former colleague. However, he is also a more refined operator, one whose calm and incisive ball-playing belies a physically imposing presence and awkward aesthetic.
Gibson not only completed more passes per game than Chambers, but did so at a significantly higher success rate – 84.6 per cent compared to 78 per cent. The statistics showcase his superior passing, a trait that makes him better suited to Koeman’s style.
Critics may point to the fact the 24-year-old only has one year of Premier League experience under his belt, though the exact same could have been said about Jagielka himself when he joined Everton from Sheffield United back in 2007.
In addition to his sound defensive fundamentals and suitability, Gibson has the technical ability to suit a left-sided role in a back three, something Koeman tried out on a number of occasions during his maiden campaign at Goodison Park.
Over the last two years, Keane has developed into one of the finest central defenders available to the England national team. Subsequently, it was unsurprising to see him called into Gareth Southgate’s squad late last year. And, making his debut against Germany, the 24-year-old did not look out of place on the international stage.
His progress has alerted many of the Premier League’s top clubs. Indeed, he was even said to be a Manchester United target at one point, though a return to Old Trafford isn’t quite as talked about at the present.
Instead, Keane is being heavily linked with a move to Everton. This move seems far more sensible for all involved, and the player has the raw materials to be an ideal replacement for Jagielka in the short and long term.
Standing tall at 6’3”, he is a strong aerial presence and a solid defender. At the same time, he is capable of playing in the centre of a back four, or at the heart or the right hand-side of a back three. His flexibility, physicality and quality on and off the ball make him a standout candidate for the Toffees as they look to bolster their defence.