Lucas Digne comments offer Frank Lampard blunt reminder of new Everton issue

The left-back position at Everton is one of the rare facets of the football club modern-day supporters have not had to worry about. In the main.

Leighton Baines’ arrival in 2007 prompted 13 years of excellence in the role before his eventual retirement at an empty Goodison Park. His era di lui on the left flank was punctured by marauding showings from Joleon Lescott in the position and brief sparkling appearances from Bryan Oviedo before serious injury struck.

Following Baines should have been difficult, but it wasn’t for Lucas Digne. The Frenchman quickly usurped his rival upon arriving at Everton in 2018 and was named the club’s player of the year at the end of a peerless debut campaign.

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He went on to establish himself as one of the best left-backs in the Premier League and was well-liked by supporters up until his controversial departure in January, days before the sacking of Rafael Benitez, the coach who ushered Digne out the door after to fallout.

“He asked me the question, I gave him my answer,” said Digne this week of that friction. “I know my place about him. I felt legitimate to give him my feelings about him and those of the other players in the locker room.

“The group was unanimous. The sequel proved me right, since he was fired because of the poor results. I think he also had a bad philosophy. He didn’t fit at Everton.

Following Digne’s departure, a natural successor has yet to emerge and as Frank Lampard, the man who replaced Benitez, seeks to sort out a plethora of long-standing issues at Everton, he can add a new one to the list – left-back.

While Digne wasn’t enjoying his best campaign before his departure to Aston Villa, he could at least be depended on to perform to an adequate standard. His attacking instincts of him were curtailed by Benitez’s tactics, but he was a solid operator with and without the ball.

That dependability has not been found by Lampard yet, as evidenced by the fact he’s started four different players as a left-back or left wing-back since arriving – that’s not including Anthony Gordon’s brief cameo in the position last time out at Crystal Palace.

In Vitalii Mykolenko Everton clearly saw potential, as evidenced by the £ 20million spent to secure his signature. But in addition to the standard challenges that come for a 22-year-old leaving his home country and joining a struggling team mid-season in the toughest league in the world, he has had to watch on from afar as atrocities continue in his native Ukraine. Caution over his inclusion of him is natural.

Jonjoe Kenny, usually a right-back, has been used on the left of defense most commonly by Lampard and while he had fine games against Leeds United and Manchester City in the position, it’s an experiment that a lot of supporters are ready to see concludes . He was hooked at half-time against Palace.

Ben Godfrey has also been tried out on the left, starting there in the memorable 1-0 home win against Newcastle United. However, the defender is yet to recapture the swashbuckling vim he bristled with when playing as a full-back last season – perhaps that’s no shock given his campaign has been derailed by Covid-19 and injuries – and his presence may also be needed at center -back given the struggles of Michael Keane and Mason Holgate.

Even Andros Townsend got a go in Lampard’s first Premier League game in charge, as he struggled as a left wing-back in the 3-1 loss away to Newcastle.

As of yet, none of these players have seized their chance and as has been the case with almost every facet of the team under Lampard, changes have been made frequently in an attempt to find an antidote.

But as Everton gear up to an enormous 11 games in a bid to avoid relegation, the time has surely come for Lampard to have some conviction and consistency in his choices. Be in terms of playing style, formation and personnel within that system.

So whether it’s Mykolenko, Godfrey or Kenny – or even a potentially left-field shout like Nathan Patterson or Fabian Delph – it feels like the time has come to settle on a candidate. To give a left-back time to build cohesion with team-mates and confidence in himself over the course of the next couple of months.

Lampard, of course, cannot be held culpable for the decision that led to the sale of a key player in the midst of a relegation battle to appease a coach that was never long for the job. Had Digne still been at Everton then this position would have been near the bottom of the team’s lists of concerns.

The Frenchman himself made being an effective successor to a fine player look easy. But following on from him looks an altogether more challenging ask for one of the current crop.

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