One of the shining lights in an Everton side who have lost just one of their last nine matches in all competitions, 21-year-old Jarrad Branthwaite is arguably the most in-form English centre-back in the country at the moment.
Spending last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven - making a total of 36 appearances for the Dutch giants in all competitions - Branthwaite has made 14 consecutive Premier League appearances for Everton since coming into the team in the Toffees third match of the campaign at home to Wolves.
Sean Dyche’s charges began this term in dismal fashion, winning just one of their opening seven Premier League games to prompt fears of yet another season battling relegation, but the Toffees have enjoyed an inspired renaissance in form under the ex-Burnley gaffer over the last couple of months, with the introduction of Branthwaite in the team a vital help.
Rocked by a 10-point deduction imposed by the Premier League in mid-November for an alleged breach of financial rules, Everton have appeared to have been galvanised in the face of a perceived injustice, winning three of their four league matches since, with the imposing Branthwaite appearing to grow in confidence with each passing game.
We explore Branthwaite’s pathway to the first team at Everton, his impressive recent form and potential international future in the latest edition of In Focus…
Joining Everton from boyhood club Carlisle United as a 17-year-old in January 2020, having already made 14 senior appearances for the Cumbrians, Branthwaite has since spent two loan spells away from Goodison Park – at Blackburn Rovers and PSV Eindhoven.
It was this latter loan spell with PSV in the Eredivisie last season which saw the promising Branthwaite take his game to a new level, nailing down a regular first team place at centre-back as the Dutch side finished second in the league and won the KNVB Cup for the second year in a row.
Working under former Manchester United favourite Ruud van Nistelrooy for the majority of the season, Branthwaite was able to obtain vital senior experience in a technical league in which the majority of teams look to play out from the back.
The Carlisle United academy graduate was also exposed to European football for the first time, with PSV competing in the Champions League play-offs before reaching the Europa League knockout round play-offs, where they were edged out by eventual winners Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate.
Branthwaite told the British media in September 2023:
"Going over there was a big platform, a big stage, playing in Europe and things - and getting that solid game time continuously really helped me."
Branthwaite’s performances for PSV were so impressive that not only were the Dutch side desperate to sign him on a permanent basis, but reports suggested Manchester United, Roma and even rivals Liverpool had also taken a keen notice of him.
Taking over as Toffees manager in January 2023, Sean Dyche made a concerted effort to reach out to Branthwaite during his loan spell abroad:
"I spoke to him a couple of times on the phone. Nothing heavy. Just to let him know I was here and get a little feel for him," Dyche told the British media in October 2023.
As far as loan moves go, it’s fair to say Branthwaite’s stint in the Netherlands was a resounding success for all parties.
He is good on the ball, can play on the right or left of the centre because he is two-footed, has height and speed - he is a very complete defender.
- Ex-PSV manager Ruud van Nistelrooy, Feb 2023
Branthwaite played alongside Netherlands internationals Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons during his time at PSV.
Returning to Everton no doubt in a buoyant mood after his successful loan spell in the Netherlands, Branthwaite was forced to sit out of two-and-a-half weeks of preparatory training due to injury.
This delayed the defender’s integration into Sean Dyche’s side, with Michael Keane partnering James Tarkowski in the Toffees’ first two games of the season – a disappointing 1-0 loss at home to Fulham before a 4-0 battering away at Aston Villa.
Eventually handed his big chance in Everton’s third match of the campaign – a 1-0 loss against Wolves at Goodison – Branthwaite hasn’t lost his place in the starting XI since.
A dominant aerial presence at 6ft 5ins, Branthwaite is also quick on the ground and assured in possession.
An England youth international signed from the EFL who relishes bringing the ball out from the back, there’s little wonder Branthwaite has been widely compared to former Blues defender and current England international John Stones.
A left-footed centre-back, Branthwaite has complemented the right-footed Tarkowski perfectly at the heart of Everton’s defence, with this partnership protected by England’s number one in Jordan Pickford easily a top 10 level defensive triad.
So it has proved, with Everton’s current points total of 13 meaning they would currently be positioned in 10th place without their deduction, with the Toffees posting their third best stats in the division for clean sheets (5) and non-penalty goals conceded (16).
With Everton currently on a run of three wins without conceding a goal in the Premier League – overcoming Nottingham Forest 1-0 at the City Ground before back-to-back victories over Newcastle and Chelsea at Goodison – Branthwaite’s performances are beginning to turn heads up and down the country.
The Blues have moved quickly to tie Branthwaite down to a new long-term contract at Goodison, with talk of a £75m transfer valuation to fend off reported interest from the likes of Tottenham and Man Utd.
His adaptation has been clear to the pace and the detail of Premier League football. He continues to improve, and physically he is a good specimen.
- Everton manager Sean Dyche, Oct 2023
Branthwaite has won 42 aerial duels in the Premier League so far this season, with teammate Tarkowski the only English defender to have won more.
|Expected Goals Conceded
In attendance at Goodison as Everton ran out 2-0 winners over Chelsea in their last outing - a match in which Branthwaite excelled at the back for the hosts - was none other than the England manager Gareth Southgate.
One of a plethora of England’s victorious Under 21s side at the 2023 Euros to have enjoyed standout Premier League campaigns to date – including Anthony Gordon, Cole Palmer and Harvey Elliott – there are unsurprisingly calls for Branthwaite to earn a call-up for Southgate’s senior squad.
The high opinion of Branthwaite within the England youth setup was reinforced by Under 21s manager Lee Carlsey’s decision to hand the Everton prospect the captain’s armband for the Young Lions’ most recent outing – a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland in Euros Qualifying.
As far as the senior men’s national team is concerned, the centre of defence can be acknowledged to be one of the current squad’s weaker areas.
With a vast quantity of elite forward players, and array of talent at full-back, there is a conspicuous dearth of top level operators at centre-back at present other than Man City Treble winner and former Everton man John Stones.
As things stand, Southgate’s preferred defensive partnership ahead of next summer’s Euros in Germany appears to be John Stones at right centre-back and the much maligned Harry Maguire next to him at left centre-back.
One thing certainly in Branthwaite’s favour is the fact he is left-footed, with a notable lack of left-footed centre-backs currently at Southgate’s disposal.
This was a factor which appeared to previously favour Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings, a regular in England squads between 2019 and 2021 who started the Three Lions’ opening two matches at Euro 2020 as first-choice Maguire returned from injury.
Although right-footed himself, Maguire has grown comfortable playing at left centre-back for his country, and despite a tumultuous last couple of years on the pitch with Man Utd, seems destined to line up as England’s first choice in this position alongside Stones at the Euros next summer with Southgate having stuck by the 30-year-old through his rough patches in form.
Given none of the other centre-backs called up for England’s most recent matches against Malta and North Macedonia in Euros Qualifying are left-footed – Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori and Ezri Konsa – the door could just be ajar for Branthwaite to sneak a place on the plane to Germany next summer as Maguire’s understudy.
If Everton’s new star is able to maintain his current form and upward trajectory for the remainder of this Premier League season, you certainly couldn’t begrudge him this opportunity.
He’s got everything you need and he’s playing with an experienced head at such a young age. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the coming months and years if he’s in that [England] squad.
- Everton centre-back James Tarkowski, Dec 2023
Gareth Southgate's England are currently rated as joint-favourites alongside France ahead of Euro 2024 in Germany next summer.
All odds are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change.