I don't think there is anything which divides the opinion of Evertonians quite like the question: "Who is our best defensive partnership?" We never seem to be able to get a settled consistent partnership. Why is that? Are we not mixing the right blend? Are they being coached badly? Have our tactics left them exposed? ... or are the centre-halves we have recruited just not good enough?

Whilst we haven't gone bananas (like some clubs) when purchasing centre-backs, we have still forked out quite a lot of cash. Sure, we got Holgate for a song, but we spent the best part of £75M on Mina, Keane and Godfrey... were they worth it?

We were not signing an unknown when we signed Yerry Mina. We had all seen the Colombian monster power home the equalizer against England and he was coming from Barcelona so he must be good... right?

I`ve been hugely disappointed with big Yerry. First impressions of him were very positive; he looked to have all the tools. Experienced, strong physique, no slouch, decent distribution, very powerful in the air... but I didn't reckon on him being quite so wooden.

I didn't reckon on him costing us goals by not seeing danger early enough. I didn't see him as somebody who would completely lose 10-15 minutes of a game after being sleepwalked into a personal fued by a cute forward looking to wreck his focus. I didn't expect this giant of a man to be sideline nearly as often as he is.

Good enough? This season alone, he has cost us goals that I believe a better professional would have prevented.

Michael Keane cost roughly the same as Mina but, for me, he has been just as big a disappointment. Again, he seemed to have the attributes: good in the air, composed on the ball (most of the time), good distribution, very good if given time and, although not aggressive, his bravery couldn't really be questioned.

But, for me, he too has as many flaws in his make-up as attributes. He can be indecisive. He is slower than a week in jail (something I believe he often tries to overcompensate for) and he turns like the Egremont. A decent centere-half when the game is going his way, but struggles badly when taken out of his comfort zone. The closer he gets to the half-way line the more vulnerable he looks.

Then there is Mason Holgate. He has been my biggest disappointment. A natural footballer who can play short give-and-take football, much faster across the ground than the other two with a lateral movement they don't possess. Such is his talent, Big Dunc had no qualms about plunging him into midfield against decent opposition... So what has happened to him?

Being played at right-back so often by Carlo Ancelotti did nothing for his game, I`m sure of that, but there has to be more to it than that. A sloppiness has crept into his game. A good passer who has stopped taking care of his passes. His less-than-intense body language gives the impression he doesn't care enough.

The incessant gum-chewing doesn't help dispel the sneaking suspicion that he thought he had "made it" when he signed his very lucrative 5-year contract... If he is to fulfil all that early promise, he needs to get his game back together. Now would be a good time to start.

Ben Godfrey was a revelation last season; he was thrown in much sooner than even he would have expected and he responded fantastically. His pace and power saved us regularly and came as a very pleasant surprise... but are we witnessing a second season syndrome? Probably too early to say that, especially in light of his health problems, but I have to confess his positioning has worried me. I am not as confident that we have signed a genuine star as I was last season.

We had them sorts of center-halves since no-nonsense Dave Watson gave us a calm if unspectacular assurance.
Most have not been met with universal approval. Stubbs was "too slow", Stones was "too cocky" and Gough got here too late. We're still searching…

So what is our best possible pairing now? I don't think we have an ideal partnership but, for me, it would never ever be Mina and Keane. They are simply too static. For centuries, lighthouses have served a purpose… but I am yet to see a pair of them come down Scotland Road in an open-top bus.

Reader Comments (36)

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Peter Mills
1 Posted 23/10/2021 at 11:04:48
Darren, like you, I don’t think we have a great partnership available to us at present.

Mina and Keane are ok, but that’s not good enough. They are both too prone to repeated errors, and too awkward or slow. Top of my wish list pre-season was a commanding, experienced centre back, I was encouraged when the name Koulibaly cropped up, but that came to nothing.

Such a player would bring on Ben Godfrey. He is a superb prospect, playing centre back is much more difficult than full back, he needs mentoring, someone alongside him to show him little positional improvements and body-shape.

As for Mason Holgate, I’m still not sure what his best position is, and he appears to be a bit complacent.

Brent Stephens
2 Posted 23/10/2021 at 11:14:53
Yes, Peter, I think Godfrey is still a superb prospect, as you say. It seems covid has done him no favours. I bet he wishes it was as easy as stopping chewing gum, to improve his game.
Danny O’Neill
3 Posted 23/10/2021 at 11:55:38
Well, after the recent post match discussion, you go and throw that hand grenade into to ToffeeWeb bunker Darren! Good read.

We have 4 decent centre backs in my opinion. Decent. Good defenders and one who is a prospect. But none of them are stand out; just yet. My views:

Mina: Just when we think we're seeing the player we thought we'd bought, he breaks down physically or melts down for those 10 minutes. I still like Mina though, just wish we'd get more consistency from him.

Godfrey. He is the prospect; my "just yet" point above. His current unfortunate problems aside, I'm excited about him. Very different player to Stones, but I see parallels. Let's not hound him as he learns his trade like we did with Stones.With an experienced top quality centre back alongside him, he will develop into a quality defender in my opinion.

Holgate. Could be a lot of what you say. Emerged as an exciting youngster. Maybe some complacency or just that dip young players often have? Possibly mismanagement? But that might be linked to a series of managers with different views not knowing his best position. A victim of his versatility or something that can be used to effect? He's still only 24, so again, relatively young for a centre back so still time to develop and improve him. Reading this paragraph back I see myself asking questions. That tells me there are still questions over Mason.

Interesting you mention the gum chewing. It should be as irrelevant as the new trend in sock wearing by young players. But it gives a perception of attitude and some of the things you mention can be apportioned to Mings, who struts around the pitch like he's Franz Beckenbauer at times. As many know, my wife is Villa and she can't stand him!

I've been called out for mentioning Keane, so I won't say a lot more through fear of getting told off. The oldest of the bunch, so the most experienced.

Which brings me onto the glaring missing ingredient in a defensive line. Where is the leader? It's why, despite repeatedly called for a top drawer, experienced centre back for almost the past 12 months, especially when we got linked with Koulibaly, I got told it wasn't a priority. I think it was and still is.

Finally on the now departed.

You mentioned. Stones; interesting point on his "arrogance". Winners generally have that in their locker. Look at most Boxers. They're not nice guys when they step in the ring. Footballers shouldn't be when they step over the white line.

Stubbs may have been slow but could read the game. And he had that low flying bullet of a free kick in his armoury. I would add David Weir to your Richard Gough. Everton's very own "Highlander"; he seemed to live forever. Albeit in a poor Everton team, although how many of them have there been over the past decades?

Kevin Prytherch
4 Posted 23/10/2021 at 12:58:58
I hold the view that we have 4 centre backs with different strengths and weaknesses, and we should be selecting them based on the nature of the opposition.

The most obvious example is Michael Keane. He is our best defender, and one of the best in the league, of defending the edge of his own box and defending the space in front of him. He is therefore suited to games where we sit back, soak up pressure and hit teams on the break. He is not suited to playing teams who we should be taking the game to them, such as Watford at home. He either defends too deep or leaves us vulnerable on the counter as he is slow and poor at defending the space behind him.

Unfortunately we have had a succession of managers with the mentality of “he played well against Utd, so therefore he has to start against Watford”. As the old saying goes, “Horses for Courses”, Keane is not a horse for a home tie against Watford.

Darren Hind
6 Posted 25/10/2021 at 18:06:55
Just watched a recording of MotD.

Martin Keown scathing about Godfrey. Then made the sort of observation 99.9% of Evertonians have been making for years

"Keane ridiculously deep, playing everyone onside"

What does he know though? As a member of the unbeaten "Invincibles", he won three FA Cups, three league titles, three Community Shields, a European Cup-Winners Cup.

Holgate was looking to preserve his 100% record when he buried his penalty and he doesn't get a look-in since. Our central defensive woes look to be in safe hands.

Graham Mockford
7 Posted 26/10/2021 at 16:34:37
Pretty good analysis for me.

Ben Godfrey is an interesting one, let’s not worry too much yet about this seasons form. It’s on record the debilitation his Covid infection has had. But
I’m just not sure he’s a natural centre half. For me he has more of Kyle Walker about him. Strong, fast and aggressive. Best played either at full back or part of a three.

Keane is pretty straightforward for me. Good at some things, honest as the day is long but lacks pace on the turn. Everyone one can see it. Stick him against Burnley and he’ll impress, play him against the top forwards and he’ll struggle.

Holgate is a major disappointment, appears to have plenty of attributes but seems to be lacking confidence. There’s a long history of promising players ‘not training on’.

The only one I disagree with is Mina. I think he’s improved over his time with us and the stats don’t lie, we get better results when he plays than when he doesn’t.

Robert Tressell
8 Posted 26/10/2021 at 16:57:47
Before Benitez bought the two wingers, I thought that the weird group of players we'd assembled might best be deployed in a 5221.

That would have seen Godfrey and Holgate playing either side of Mina (or Keane) with Digne and AN Other as wing backs.

With the two wingers we're probably better with 4231 (or similar) - and really I'd like to see us persist with Godfrey and Mina for a good run of games. It's not a match made in heaven but it's worth seeing how it shapes up.

I'd also like to see Branthwaite given minutes because he's potentially an excellent partner for Godfrey.

Paul Tran
9 Posted 26/10/2021 at 17:29:46
Nobody we have is completely good enough.

I'd say Mina is our 'best' centre half, but he can go missing mentally and is made of balsa wood.

Keane would be good in a team penned back in its own box for 90 minutes. Not for one interested in heading the other way. He costs us 10 yards every game.

Holgate is like the proverbial horse that hasn't trained on. I can see him leaving.

Godfrey has post-Covid issues – no-one will be able to tell when he'll get fully healthy again. Benitez clearly rates him and is trying to play him back to match fitness. And yes, Darren, there could be some second season syndrome in there too.

Branthwaite is still a talented unknown quantity, but I'd be tempted to try him. He looks like he has something about him.

Whoever gets pulled out of the hat on Monday needs to show more concentration. I don't go for this (non)-zonal marking debate. If you concentrate, it's irrelevant. Of course, I'm probably not the only one questioning our defenders' ability to concentrate consistently, am I?

We need a focal point at the back, as well as one upfront. The way our financial position is, I'd say we're pinning our hopes on Branthwaite, or an as yet undiscovered bargain.

Jay Harris
10 Posted 26/10/2021 at 17:53:02
A good post for debate, Darren.

Nobody as yet has mentioned the other players in the equation.

What happened to the statement "we defend as a team"?

IMO, on Saturday, Gordon was doing a great job of backing up Digne and, when he was taken off, Godfrey noticeably was pulled left to assist Digne.

In addition, Tom was in a more advanced role and did not get back to help Allan who was trying to protect 2 centre-backs who were as wide as the Mersey Tunnel.

Although I have been impressed by Benitez so far this season, I have to lay the blame for the disorganization firmly at his door for the Watford game.

Having got that out of the way, here is my take on our centre-backs:

Mina: potentially our most effective playing deep or high line but far too injury-prone and plays the wind-up card too often.

Keane: too inconsistent and no concentration and slower than a tug boat, a squad player at best for me.

Godfrey: potentially our best centre-back but needs to shake off the effects of Covid and mature a bit before he realises his potential.

Holgate: the biggest disappointment for me. I had great hopes for this lad: good passer of the ball, confident and quick, but does not seem the same player since his toe injury early last year.

Branthwaite: looked good and strong in the few games he played last season but has had a serious injury. The jury is still out but he may be worth a run out in the light of last weekend.

Honourable mention for Ryan Astley who reminds me of Colin Todd.

I couldn't recommend my suggested partnership because I believe whoever plays in defensive midfield and wingback positions has a large bearing on it but, suffice it to say, whoever plays at the back needs more protection and we need a better way of defending set-pieces.

Barry Rathbone
11 Posted 26/10/2021 at 18:07:07
Mina and Keane by a whisker but it's a bit like choosing which of the ugly sisters to take home.

Our squad is miserably weak.

Ray Robinson
12 Posted 26/10/2021 at 18:46:41
If I had to make an absolute choice, I would say Mina and Keane but then we'd have to play with a deep-lying defence. Like others have said though, the best combination will probably depend on the opposition and even on the stage of the match.

I must be one of few who wasn't totally convinced by Godfrey last season. Excellent though he was, I thought it was often his speed that got him out of trouble. Now that Covid has hit him, who knows what his future holds? Not good enough in the air either.

Holgate for me is neither tall nor physical enough to play centre-back – curious for one who naturally seems to enjoy a bit of agro.

Which brings me back to Mina and Keane – the best natural defenders, though each with the flaws outlined by other contributors. At least Keane and Mina present goalscoring threats.

So, we have four decent candidates for centre-back but I'd still be looking for another one!

Jagielka starts to look like an even classier act now he has gone and his partnership with Lescott has never been equalled since.

Graham Mockford
13 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:11:07

I thought Jagielka played his best football alongside Distin.

Either way, Jagielka is the best centre-half in the last 20 years.

Ray Robinson
14 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:15:59
Graham, yes that too was also an excellent partnership but I remember once seeing Jagielka and Lescott playing together at Anfield, thinking Liverpool would never score – and I've rarely had that confidence!

Jagielka, Labone, Gough, Weir, Watson are the best I've seen. Probably forgotten a few good 'uns.

Graham Mockford
15 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:18:31

No doubt Lescott was excellent for 3 years; I think if memory serves Distin was bought to replace him.

Graham Mockford
16 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:23:37

Surely you missed Ratcliffe?

Ray Roche
17 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:28:06

Or which testicle to hit with a mallet.😵‍💫

Ray Robinson
18 Posted 26/10/2021 at 19:28:24
Of course, Graham! I didn't put much effort into it. Excellent centre back but somehow always considered him as a converted left-back – which he was!
Ian Bennett
19 Posted 26/10/2021 at 20:18:57
A dominant centre-half sets the team. You'll never be anything as a team without a good one.

Mina is the best, but is no use if he misses one game in three. Verdict: sell. I can't see him signing a new deal, so bring someone in who can lead the side.

Keane was a bad buy, and needs to be moved on. Totally unconvincing for any club wishing to operate in the Top 8. Not an athlete, not a leader, riddled with mistakes, mentally weak, constantly bullied. Verdict: sell.

Holgate doesn't look particularly comfortable with any partner we have. Has good pace and passes well, but lacks physical presence and can lack concentration. Verdict: keep – I believe Rafa can bring the best out of him, but he needs a real leader next to him.

Godfrey – definitely going through second season syndrome. Is all over the place, so hard to gauge if he is the real deal or not. Verdict: keep.

The sum of the above is we are looking for a good experienced defender, who can be the first-choice centre half – playing every game. These are like rocking-horse shit at the moment. Maguire: £80M; White: £50M, Spurs buying in Sanchez & Romero.

Tarkowski will be in demand as his contract nears expiration. Romagnoli – not many Italians have made it in the Premier League? Simon Kjaer is knocking on, but a warrior. At 32, could he be the man to take younger players forward? Souttar from Stoke – at 23 he will lack experience. Who would he learn off?

Allan Board
20 Posted 26/10/2021 at 20:45:37
The issue Everton have at centre half is nobody leads, talks or dishes out bolluckings when people are not doing there jobs. It's all too bloody nice.
Pickford would be much better if his defence weren't stood on his penalty spot for most of the game. The deeper you defend the harder it makes it for keepers to see,organise and play out. You need 2 real quick player's in a defence,one at cb and one at full back and preferably on opposite sides to each other, minimum. Godfrey is quite quick,the rest are pedestrians. Pace can get you in behind attacking,but it can also save you when defending. We should target quick defender's to replace the current one's as a top priority.
The best cb I've seen at Everton?
No contest, Rats. Stupidly quick,good leader and bollucker and the best bit, a nasty piece when needed.
Half a dozen like him please Rafa!
Danny O’Neill
21 Posted 26/10/2021 at 20:59:43
I'm probably using my teenage nostalgia here Ray, but I've got to give Mountfield a mention? 14 goals in one season!
Graham Mockford
22 Posted 26/10/2021 at 21:11:31

Best attacking defender from setpieces I’ve ever seen. It was 35 years ago yesterday we beat Watford 3-2. Degsy scored two, scored an oggie and gave away a penalty. He says he tried to claim the matchball but the ref wouldn’t let him have it.

Ray Robinson
23 Posted 26/10/2021 at 21:18:20
Danny, deliberately left Mountfield out. Again, heresy perhaps, but didn't think he was a top, top defender. Great as an attacking threat though! I think the management thought along similar lines as he was soon replaced by Dave Watson.
Danny O’Neill
24 Posted 26/10/2021 at 21:28:58
I was at the one Graham!

Okay, I'll give you that Ray. He was. The black eye and sending most of Villa Park into ecstasy as well as on their way to Wembley!

Kieran Kinsella
25 Posted 26/10/2021 at 21:52:59
Graham / Ray

There’s a fellow I know, I won’t say his last name and call him Eugene but he is the husband of Mrs Keddy the music teacher. Swears blind Ratcliffe never played as a center half just a LB. Even watched a game alongside him when Pat was at LB and he was insisting Ratcliffe was but the defense was a shambles getting out of position. He also thought Harvey was a better manager than Howard.

Michael Kenrick
26 Posted 26/10/2021 at 21:56:40
Whatever happened to Branthwaite?

He seems to have fully recovered from his ankle surgery but just does not appear to be getting much game time. Not even on the bench for the last two lost games.

Seen in training per the Echo, but also Ryan Astley and Eli Campbell have been seen training with the seniors. Seems he may not be very high on Rafa's list?

David Pearl
27 Posted 26/10/2021 at 22:25:57
Maybe Lonergan gets a bonus for every time he makes the bench?
John Raftery
28 Posted 26/10/2021 at 23:22:13
From the current group there is no ideal partnership. Currently the best duo is Keane and Mina. Both have problems. As noted by many Keane sits too deep owing to his inability to turn quickly while Mina suffers recurring muscle strains when required to play more than once a week.

Our deficiency at centre back is far from unique. When a club like Manchester United are unable to solve their central defensive problems despite an outlay of well over £100m it is plain that we will need to be exceptionally astute in our scouting and recruitment to bring in the right player at a price we can afford.

David Pearl
29 Posted 26/10/2021 at 23:38:49
To have a successful team you need partnerships all over the pitch. So what is our best partnership down the left and right? Up front? In the middle? And how do those partnerships work and move together? Do we have a system? Not really...

Chelsea and City has a system that works first and foremost. They have partnerships that move together forwards and back.

To find the best centre back pairing we first have to find our system, our rhythm.

I just read that on a lolly stick.

I meant to say Mina and Keane.

Although l quite liked the 3 with Holgate and Godfrey either side of Keane. It worked and they were all plugged in.

Danny Broderick
30 Posted 27/10/2021 at 11:46:20
David Pearl has just said the word “partnership”, and I couldn’t agree more! I just don’t see a partnership between any of these defenders except Mina and Keane.

You could discuss the individual merits of the team all day, but it doesn’t matter how good the individual players are, they need to be well drilled and compact in defence. Look at Man U at the moment. On paper, one of the best back fours in the league - but they are wide open.

If there is one thing Benitez will sort, it’s the defence. I think Mina and Keane are right up his street as defenders. Godfrey is still learning the game, it won’t do him any harm to fill in at full back now and again. Many centre halves have to do this at the start of their careers. Holgate is simply 4th choice for me.

Our first choice back 4 and centre mid is pretty solid. The trouble is, take any of those players out, and the back up leaves us weaker, especially in midfield.

Darren Hind
31 Posted 28/10/2021 at 19:02:42
If we are going to discuss all-time centre-halves, has John Hurst not slipped under the radar here?

Started as a youngster, went to left-half, filtered back as the Holy Trinity strutted their stuff, but was a great partner for Labby.

I remember being at Highbury when he netted the winner in the opening game in 1969. Everyone on our bus (Sunnyways, I think) talked about us being certain Champions all the way home... We only had 41 games to go.

Stan Schofield
33 Posted 28/10/2021 at 20:31:03
Darren, Roger Kenyon as well.
Paul Tran
34 Posted 28/10/2021 at 20:32:24
Wouldn't we kill for Hurst & Labone now, eh Darren?

GT running 2.45 at Ascot on Saturday.

David Pearl
35 Posted 28/10/2021 at 21:23:56
Isn't it strange how Ratcliffe doesn't ever get much of a mention. Or is it that l was too young to realise he was only mediocre? Or was he as good as l remember him to be?

I actually really like Bilic. Class. "You'll never beat the Bilic"
Materazzi too. I hated that Darren Huckerby.

Danny, l hope he sorts out the defence but as l've said lots of times the shape of the midfield has to be right. Hopefully we can start to mend on Monday.

One of Moyes strengths was to be able to bounce back from a kick to the goolies.

Brian Murray
36 Posted 28/10/2021 at 22:18:15
Stan. Post 33. Kenyon really needed better partners than billy Wright and Lyons. His finest hour marking dalglish totally out the Andy king derby in 78. Higgins to be fair was class but too injury prone. As for Colin Todd it’s tragic we never hardly played him in his best position.
Bob Skelton
37 Posted 28/10/2021 at 23:18:11
My problem with our current crop of centre halves is that none of them has any real heart. Where are the organisers, the die for the club types, the no nonsense types? None in the current team!
I saw someone decry Mick Lyons, he wasn't the most skillful but by Christ he wouldn't be pussy footing around like the keystone cops show we witnessed on Saturday.
The current academy system doesn't seem to want defenders who can defend but passing artistes (or piss artists) masquerading as defenders. We've got plenty of them.
Pete Clarke
38 Posted 28/10/2021 at 23:44:29
We have not got any great players in our squad at all. The manager is is the one who has to make the best of it with a system that works.
At the moment I would say our full backs are more of a concern than the center halves and without Doucouré in our team Allan or Davies have not got it in them to protect the defense. We need to sort this area out.
Keane and Mina are the best we can hope for but both of them are fragile. Mina comes across as arrogant but he’s also a scatterbrain who can give penalties away or get himself sent off. Keane is definitely made of glass and needs to somehow find a bit of arrogance and bravery or he’s going to get dropped. Godfrey will hopefully snap into some kind of form because he’s looked very rash lately.
Looking back I would say Distin was our last quality center half. He had good ability and the kind of pace we have not seen since Ratcliffe. Jagielka showed that you can do a good job in other positions because he was a midfielder and quite solid. Stones was class but let himself down with poor concentration.

We need a win for a bit of confidence that’s for sure so let’s hope the manager can find something in these players to give us one this weekend as the other fixtures look daunting.
At least having Richie instead of Rondon gives us 11 players on the field.

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