It’s an exciting time to be an Everton fan at the moment.
Under the steady stewardship of Ronald Koeman, the Toffees finished comfortably in seventh place, 15 points clear of Southampton in eighth.
And after using their influx of cash to add the attacking talents of Davy Klaassen from Ajax and potentially Malaga forward Sandro Ramirez (as per the Daily Mail), Everton’s attack will likely have a bit of bite with or without Romelu Lukaku.
While the Dutchman has already secured his key attacking signings and will most likely have a replacement in mind for the Chelsea-bound Lukaku, he will be keen to sort out his backline.
Everton conceded 44 goals last year, the sixth-best total in the league.
While this is not a bad total for a side aspiring for the top six, Koeman will know it needs to improve should they progress – particularly as the man who has previously overseen Southampton sides who have finished with the fifth and second most impressive defences in his two seasons at St Mary’s.
With £30m Jordan Pickford already signed between the sticks, the main area the Dutchman will want to look at is the middle of his defence.
Ashley Williams’ place appears secure after a steady first season at Goodison Park, but both Phil Jagielka and Ramiro Funes-Mori have blown hot and cold alongside him all season.
Keane has had an excellent first Premier League campaign for a Clarets side that comfortably avoided relegation, while Smalling is reportedly surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.
But which will Koeman swoop for?
The first thing to look at is the role Williams’ partner would need to play. From his time in Swansea as well as Merseyside, the Welshmen has shown himself to be a solid ball-player, meaning the man alongside him would only be focussing on the defensive side of the game.
These statistics back up the idea that Keane had the better season, although the stats are skewed by the fact some of Smalling’s minutes came from the bench in an indifferent campaign.
Which brings us on to the next point: fitness. Keane started 35 games and played 3150 minutes for Sean Dyche’s side this season, while Smalling only managed 13 starts and 1215 minutes.
Koeman will be looking for as much consistency as possible in his backline – something he won’t get from a player who spent half the season sidelined.
The third and final reason Everton should be looking at Keane is age. At 24, Keane has plenty of room to grow alongside Williams. Smalling, at 27, is about at his peak and would offer little resale value.
The only real reason to look at Smalling at this point would be the price tag, with the Telegraph reporting that Keane would cost £30m.
However, considering the seasons Keane would offer, as well as the fact Smalling’s wage demands are likely to be higher, the difference in price could end up being negligible in the future.
With funds only likely to increase if Lukaku leaves, there’s only one man who Koeman should be looking at.