Former England international Rob Lee, while speaking exclusively with Football FanCast editor James Beavis, has claimed that injuries to Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman are a far bigger blow for Everton and Carlo Ancelotti than losing Fabian Delph.
The Toffees are set to be without Delph for this Saturday’s Premier League clash with title-chasing Chelsea after the midfielder limped off during the first half of last weekend’s draw at Burnley clutching a hamstring injury.
Blues chiefs are resigned to losing the former Manchester City star for the early stages of the festive period, fearing that rushing him back will only worsen the issue having been plagued by injuries since moving to Goodison Park in 2019.
Ancelotti was already without his first-choice full-backs Digne and Coleman for the trip to Turf Moor, forcing the Italian to hand Delph only his second start of the league campaign to fill in at left-back.
Digne is facing up to three months on the sidelines after surgery on an ankle injury, while Coleman has been plagued by hamstring problems this season that have ruled the Republic of Ireland international out of action for five of Everton’s last six top-flight fixtures.
Lee, who earned 21-caps for England during his playing career, feels the loss of Digne and Coleman has thrown Everton’s season off course and into the rough, as the pair brought energy and balance that Ancelotti cannot find elsewhere in his squad.
“I think the bigger blow is his full-backs. I think that’s why they started like a house on fire, Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman. But they’ve got so much energy, they can get up and down and give so much balance and I think they miss them more than they miss anybody else,” Lee told Football FanCast. “It helps that Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been on fire, he’s scoring all their goals.
“But I thought at the start of the season, they look good, they look like they have a really, really good balance to their team and it just goes to show you that if you lose a couple of your wider players and lesser players come in, or maybe they don’t know how to do the job, that they just seemed to be set up so well under Carlo Ancelotti. And they now, they look a bit not quite as fluent as they were. And I think it’s down to both their full-backs.”
Everton have won just once in the five Premier League fixtures they have been without Coleman for, coming at newly-promoted Fulham, while losing to Southampton, Newcastle and Leeds United.
Ancelotti fielded central defender Ben Godfrey at right-back against Southampton after stating he has “no doubt” in the summer arrival’s ability to play on the side, before favouring Jonjoe Kenny at Newcastle, Tom Davies against Leeds and Alex Iwobi at Burnley.
Godfrey is now expected to move to left-back in place of Digne and Delph when the Toffees host Chelsea on Saturday night, with Ancelotti seemingly opposed to utilising former Olympique de Marseille prospect Niels Nkounkou.
The young Frenchman has featured for just 69-minutes in the Premier League since moving to Merseyside in the summer and been omitted from Ancelotti’s last four matchday squads, despite playing all three Carabao Cup ties through to the end and providing one assist.
It remains to be seen who Ancelotti favours on the right of his defensive line, with Coleman’s absence denying the Italian his joint-most productive defender for successful tackles (14) and ground duels won (27), per SofaScore, while Digne accounts for the second-most key balls (16) and big chances created (5) by any Everton player in the league this term.
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