As Everton manager Rafa Benitez faces yet more selection headaches while he plans for the trip to Brentford this weekend, one young defender’s claims should be considered.
That player is Jarrad Branthwaite who has become a little bit of a forgotten footballer at Everton recently after going away on loan last season and then suffering an injury.
The former Carlise youth product was the first signing under Carlo Ancelotti in last January’s transfer window but certainly wasn’t the most high-profile.
He was a very highly-regarded young centre-back and the Blues’ swooped to bring him in and bolster their long-term defensive options.
Now, Benitez is facing a massive crisis in team selection due to chronic injury and suspensions and his defence is hard hit by all these issues.
Yerry Mina is still recovering from his latest injury problem and Mason Holgate is suspended for another two matches after his red card against Spurs.
Even before these seemingly inevitable things hit them, the Toffees’ defence had been leaking goals with alarming ease after a succession of heavy defeats culminating in the 3-0 loss at Manchester City in their last game.
Along with the injuries have been some alarming collapses in player’s form. One example is Ben Godfrey. The 2020 summer deadline day from Norwich City was outstanding last season but this year his form has declined hugely creating further conundrums.
This wouldn’t matter as much if Everton had enough choices and cover in defensive positions, but of course they don’t.
The club again failed to sign a new right-back this summer replace the ageing and constantly injured Seamus Coleman and allowed the only back-up to Lucas Digne at left-back to leave on loan for the campaign.
All this has left the Blues’ with a very unbalanced squad which is basically not fit for purpose and leaves Benitez with a lot of unnecessary selection problems.
This brings us back to Branthwaite. The Englishman had a few games at the back end of last season and while it was obviously not a comprehensive exposure he looked very comfortable playing in the Premier League.
He looked very composed for a young and inexperienced player and with height, pace and ability on the ball he has all the tools for a modern centre-back. In fact I think he could be another John Stones-type defender.
Branthwaite went on loan to Blackburn too although that didn’t really work out too well and he returned after that experience having probably not learnt too much more.
I think some players who don’t actually thrive on loan but might still be able to play in the first-team and the more physically demanding nature of the Championship perhaps didn’t always suit his game and the strengths he has.
He has recovered from his injury and played in Under-23’s matches giving him some recent game-time albeit not at the same level.
Anyway, as Benitez ponders his options perhaps he should consider giving the 20-year-old defender another chance. After all with players out and poor form affecting others he needs more options at the back.
In truth, given all these absences Benitez has little choice to give his best young players like Branthwaite, Ellis Simms and Lewis Dobbin more opportunties as the fixtures pile up.