The Toffees must get rid of their “amateurish” struggler.
Everton manager Sean Dyche will not be satisfied with his side's start to the 2023/24 Premier League season, having failed to string together a promising run of form; despite a summer of much alteration, there is a sense that the squad is not much stronger than it was last term.
And this is a concern. Last year, the Toffees found themselves moored in the depths of the division and only escaped the unthinkable threat of relegation through Abdoulaye Doucoure's thumping volley against Bournemouth on the final day, relegating Leicester City in their stead.
Finishing the campaign as the league's second-lowest scorers – behind only Wolverhampton Wanderers who, intriguingly, also avoided the drop – Dyche justifiably strove to bolster the attacking ranks this summer.
Signing Jack Harrison, Arnaut Danjuma, Youssef Chermiti and Beto, there is a new look about the Merseyside club's forward line, but with Conor Coady, Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate departing, the defensive third does not look as solid as it was last term.
And with the creative Alex Iwobi also joining divisional rivals Fulham in a £22m deal on transfer deadline day, there are genuine fears over the club's sustainability in the top flight at present.
In the relegation zone after four matches, having conceded eight goals and scored a joint-divisional low of two (alongside Luton Town, who have a game in hand), Dyche will need to utilise the imminent international break to devise a plan out of the mire of the bottom three.
To do so, he might need to consider dropping centre-back Michael Keane…
Signed for the Toffees from a Dyche-led Burnley for £30m in 2017, Keane arrived at Goodison Park with a weight of expectation, having been hailed for his "impressive" England debut by Gary Lineker just months before making the transfer.
It was a large fee – Everton's record-equalling at the time, in fact – that was paid due to Keane's hardiness and assurance from the back, very much looking the future star for both club and country, with interest from Manchester United warded off to secure his services.
Keane led Burnley from the Championship and cemented a Claret spot among England's elite prior to his move, very much looking the astute piece of business and a veritable rock at the back for years to come.
Still only 30-years-old, Football Transfers now value the one-time Manchester United youngster at just £6m, hinting at a sizable fall from grace over the past several years.
Having now chalked up 204 appearances for the Blues, scoring 12 goals and supplying nine assists, Keane played consistently in a side that clinched eighth-placed finishes in the Premier League across his first two years with the outfit, becoming a regular member of Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad.
The 12-cap England defender has not, however, donned the shirt since 2020, with a dramatic decline having left him on the periphery at Goodison Park over the past few years.
Indeed, having flattered to deceive over the past few years, Keane lost his place in the Everton team before his old manager Dyche took the reins in January, and while he played a central role in the club's travails last term, even scoring a remarkable long-range goal, he was chastised for his "amateurish defending" by the Liverpool Echo's Tony Scott.
With a match commentator also lamenting his "disgraceful defending" during Everton's recent 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Villa Park, it's clear that he is falling further and further into the abyss.
Everton supporters must feel beset with an interminable onslaught of negativity, like an unabating storm lashing down on Goodison Park.
A solution is needed, and it's needed quickly.
Dyche is a formidable manager renowned for his defensive discipline and instilling a hard-working mentality throughout his players, but with Keane continuously provided a starting berth, the sun will not paint the blue half of Merseyside any time soon.
Dyche made no mention of a fitness setback for Keane in the Sheffield United pre-match conference, but the former Burnley titan was not included in the squad, with Jarrard Branthwaite provided an opportunity in his stead.
The 21-year-old impressed, and now might be the time for a true changing of the guard.
Having spent the duration of the 2022/23 season out on loan with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, Branthwaite made 36 appearances and cemented his stature as one of England's most promising young defenders.
The 21-year-old completed 87% of his passes in the Eredivisie, also averaging 3.4 clearances and 1.4 interceptions per game and winning 57% of his contested duels, and now looks set for a prominent role on Merseyside this year.
Manchester United were interested in signing the 6 foot 4 colossus during the summer, according to the Daily Mail, but Dyche saw the value in retaining the precocious talent's services and no concrete negotiations materialised, with Everton's stance clear.
As per FBref, he ranks among the top 13% of centre-backs across leagues most similar to the Eredivisie – where he was with PSV – over the past year for goals and the top 19% for interceptions made per 90, also completing an average of 86% of his passes.
Speaking in the past, former Carlisle boss Steve Pressley waxed lyrical over his former loanee's skills, saying: "The truth is, I think he has got everything. He can pass the ball almost equally as good with both feet. He’s a terrific footballer. And If he continues to develop, then, without doubt, he can be an England player."
Also described as a "skilful" defender by former Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti, Branthwaite has impressed across his first two outings of the campaign in the Premier League, earning an average Sofascore rating of 7.10 after his displays against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United.
Making a remarkable 8.5 ball recoveries and two interceptions and tackles per game, he looks robust and tenacious at the back – exactly what Dyche's side need.
He also offers more composure than the error-laden efforts of Keane, with the £80k-per-week dud shambolic against Aston Villa, receiving a lowly 5.60 match score after his mistake led to the breaking of Jordan Pickford's goal.
Branthwaite could well develop even further as the season goes on, and with Keane so unreliable at the back, perhaps it's now high time to ditch him for good and allow Branthwaite to exhibit the full scale of his skill set for Everton.
The Toffees must get rid of their “amateurish” struggler.