It was with another fine swipe of his cultured left foot that Lucas Digne set up yet another Everton goal. Gylfi Sigurdsson converted, which gave the visitors an early lead away to Leeds United on Wednesday, but it was the delivery from the French full-back that conjured the opening.
That assist was Digne’s sixth, the most by a defender in this season's Premier League, and he has only started 12 games. He is fast becoming one of Everton’s most creative players. Naturally, his well-crafted crosses suit the attacking game of Dominic Calvert-Lewin but the entire team are benefitting from the left back’s creativity and inviting deliveries.
Digne is a popular member of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad. It was his arrival at the club in the summer of 2018 that brought an end to Leighton Baines’s long stint as the club’s first-choice left-back. The French international quickly made himself well-liked amongst his fellow players, so much so that when Ancelotti arrived on Merseyside in December 2019 his left-back choice was non-negotiable.
Job done ✅ 💙✌🏼 pic.twitter.com/rrS0SDXg25— Lucas Digne (@LucasDigne) February 3, 2021
Digne’s deliveries more valued than ever
For a defender on the smaller side (he is 5ft 8) he wins more aerial duels than one would expect (67 per cent) and his defensive acumen is also of good standing as his tackles, interceptions and clearances per game stats show while he has made no errors that have directly led to a shot let alone a goal or penalty this campaign.
However, there is no doubt that Digne’s key contributions come from his marauding attacks down the left. His whipped deliveries and arching throw-ins allow dominant attackers such as Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to overpower opposing defenders.
Ancelotti’s desire to have strong strikers will have contributed to the signing of Josh King earlier in the week as a back-up to Calvert-Lewin.
Digne assisted twice in Everton’s win at Fulham in November and once against Wolverhampton Wanderers in mid-January; in between those games, he was out for a month and a half with an ankle ligament injury. Ben Godfrey was an able stand-in during that period but the centre-back was playing out of position and was naturally not as adventurous or fruitful in attack.
Six assists in 12 games
This season Digne’s work on the left has been complemented by the majesty of James Rodriquez on the opposite flank. Although James’s contributions may be more eye-catching, Digne trumps him for assists.
At times it seems like Digne is playing as both full-back and winger with Richarlison often moving infield allowing the Frenchman full reign down the flank. The consistency that Digne brings is valued by Ancelotti and his relationship with Richarlison is born out of seasons playing together.
Everton’s tally of 31 goals scored, however, is the lowest of the top nine teams in the division and if they are to challenge for a European place then they must tighten up at the back and create more in attack, starting with a big game against Manchester United on Saturday before an FA Cup fifth-round tie with Tottenham Hotspur.
At the start of the campaign, Everton were much more goal-laden with them scoring three or more goals in five of their six games during September and early October. Then, Calvert-Lewin, who scored his first goal in a month against Leeds, was seemingly scoring with every touch and it is crucial that he rediscovers that Midas touch.
Richarlison has also been injured while James has likewise endured spells on the sidelines. Whichever Everton attackers start they can rely on Digne’s deliveries which are proving to be more valued and effective than ever.