Carlo Ancelotti should consider sending Everton defender Niels Nkounkou out on loan in the January transfer window.
Nkounkou joined the Toffees last summer with the intentions of building his reputation in David Unsworth’s Under 23s, yet was swiftly made a first-team player with roles in the Merseyside outfit’s Carabao Cup fixtures.
A Premier League debut soon followed at Newcastle United following an injury for Lucas Digne, yet has only been given 25 minutes of senior action since after being called on as an extra-time substitute in Everton’s FA Cup third round win over Rotherham.
Everton supporters have rarely seen Nkounkou turn out in the youth ranks, either, with Monday’s start in the junior derby with Liverpool only the 20-year-old’s second outing in the Premier League 2 and first appearance since facing Chelsea in November.
Nkounkou is finding himself very much in limbo, midway between being a first-team player and the understudy of Digne to being a youth player looking to cut their teeth with regular football in the U23s.
But the youngster has admitted that he expects the picture to remain as it currently is for the time being, and will have to wait for his chance should he remain at Goodison Park in January.
“Over the next few months, they’ll stay just the same, to keep learning and developing. Looking further ahead, of course I have objectives that I’m aiming to achieve in the future,” he told Everton’s Official Matchday Programme for their FA Cup tie with Rotherham.
“I have to be patient and show the manager in training I’m working even harder and he can count on me to deliver. Once I get the opportunity to play, it will be all about showing him I’m ready to perform whenever a position in the team opens up.”
Nkounkou has also admitted to finding his Premier League debut at Newcastle a more challenging affair than he expected it to be, adding: “I put in some good performances in the Carabao Cup, but the league game against Newcastle was a bit tougher for me.
“But, as we stand right now, I wasn’t expecting all that so soon, so I’m very happy to have already made those initial small steps.”
Monday’s clash with Liverpool in the Premier League 2 did not go entirely to plan, either, as the Liverpool Echo note that his performance was rather laid back and lacked the level of ability shown in his Carabao Cup exploits.
Nkounkou’s shortcomings were also well documented before joining Everton, with French football journalist Jeremy Smith citing a handful of key issues with the defender’s game.
“He’s a potential Benjamin Mendy type — strong, solid, good engine and can cover the whole flank all match,” Smith told The Athletic. “He has a good cross on him too. He’s seen as having lots of potential but his concentration still seems to wander. He needs to work on positioning as well.”
Training with Everton’s first-team and Ancelotti’s coaching staff will no doubt have helped Nkounkou’s development, but the Italian tactician should be open to sending him out on loan this month like the Toffees have done with Jarrad Branthwaite.
The centre-half has already made his Blackburn Rovers debut with an impressive display at the weekend, as he looks to play week-in, week-out after featuring just once in Everton’s first-team all season.
Branthwaite’s progress should only continue now that he is at a club where chances are more regular, and that ought to be the same for Nkounkou with Ancelotti able to rest easy knowing Ben Godfrey can deputise for Digne following his efforts in the role of late.