Jarrad Branthwaite: Everton’s Young Gem in Central Defence

England have a dilemma heading into this summer’s Euros. Whilst John Stones, injuries forbidding, is guaranteed to start England’s opening game against Serbia, Gareth Southgate has a decision to make on who will partner him at centre-back.


Harry Maguire is the most likely candidate, having racked up 62 England caps and played a pivotal role across three tournaments under Southgate. His form has come under scrutiny since his move to Manchester United, but he’s enjoyed something of a renaissance this season. Injury could, however, keep him out of this month’s internationals against Brazil and Belgium. Injuries are also a problem for Marc Guehi, who has recently been capped by Southgate. It leaves the door open for someone else to fill the void on the left-hand side of England’s defence.


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Jarrad Branthwaite has excelled for Everton as they try to defy the odds and stave off relegation. A physically robust but agile defender, Branthwaite uses his 6’5 frame to dominate aerially whilst also covering space in behind. Everton conceded their first headed goal of the season away to Brighton last weekend, a sign of the Toffees’ aerial prowess and whilst Branthwaite could learn to use his height more effectively, he still ranks amongst the 88th percentile for aerial duels won according to FBref. 


At 21 years old, he is already a commanding presence in an Everton backline that’s conceded just 39 goals this season – only Manchester City (27), Liverpool (25), Arsenal (24) and Aston Villa (37) have conceded fewer. This is a figure that’s in line with their expected goals conceded tally of 40.3, which tells you they are only performing marginally higher than what’s expected considering the quality of the chances they concede. On the contrary, they have scored just 29 goals from 43.0 xG, a dreadful return that sees them hovering above the relegation zone in 16th place.


For someone so tall, Branthwaite is quick across the ground and his physical attributes make him the archetypal Premier League defender.  There’s a consistency and maturity to Branthwaite’s game that for someone his age is very promising – he is one of three players aged 21 and under to play more than 2,000 minutes this season. 


Having honed his talents on-loan at PSV Eindhoven last season, Branthwaite has quickly learnt to adapt to senior football becoming a leader as Everton try to navigate arguably the most trying times in the club’s history. Everton average just 38.5% possession and Branthwaite spends plenty of time defending his own box. Whilst he relishes the opportunity to contest duels – he has the fourth-best combined duel success rate in the Premier League, the next step for Branthwaite is to become more expansive in possession. 


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The Englishman is by no means incapable of evolving his game in this way, but with an England senior call-up on the horizon, he will need to learn to be more front-footed. His recovery pace suits teams who play with a high line and look to get on the ball, but it is yet to be seen how progressive he can be with his passing.


A left-footed centre-back, he is a unique profile that is readily sought after by teams looking to develop their build-up play from the back and he displayed excellent technique in opening the scoring against Brighton last Saturday. Branthwaite’s education on loan at a ball-dominant PSV side proves he can offer security in and out of possession, and no Everton player has been involved in more build-up sequences that have led to a shot.


The scope to be able to replicate that on the international stage is unproven, but Jarrad Branthwaite looks to possess all the right attributes to seamlessly adapt his game. The Euros may come too soon for the uncapped 21-year-old. But with England likely heading into a new era following the conclusion of this summer’s tournament, the young centre-back looks set to capitalise.


By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matt McNulty / Getty Images