Leicester City have bolstered their defensive ranks with the £3.5m signing of Jonny Evans from West Bromwich Albion.
The Foxes activated the relegation release clause in the Northern Ireland centre-half’s contract and were able to secure Evans’ signature for a fraction of the £20m+ fees that Manchester City and Arsenal offered the Baggies last season.
The former Manchester United defender has signed a three-year deal with City, who have moved swiftly to address their defensive fragilities of last season: only four clubs conceded more Premier League goals than the Foxes (60) in 2017/18.
Leicester were also short in the centre-back department, with Robert Huth leaving the club and Aleksandar Dragovic, a loan signing from Bayer Leverkusen last season, unlikely to make his move to the King Power Stadium permanent. Club captain Wes Morgan, meanwhile, turns 35 midway through the coming campaign.
Evans himself is the wrong side of 30 but, with over a decade of Premier League experience at Sunderland, United and West Brom, would seem to be a good foil to the all-action Harry Maguire at the heart of the Leicester defence – on paper at least.
Upon Evans’ arrival at Leicester, manager Claude Puel said:
Jonny is a player of great experience in the Premier League and to have him as part of our squad is fantastic news for the football club. He knows exactly what it takes, he is a winner and a leader. He will bring a great deal to our squad and I’m delighted to welcome him to Leicester City.
After loan spells with Royal Antwerp in Belgium and Sunderland in the Championship, Evans’ first taste of Premier League action came in a second short-term spell with the Black Cats. Joining the newly promoted north-east club in the second half of the 2007/08 season, Evans made 15 first-team appearances and helped the Wearsiders stave off relegation back to the Football League.
Seven seasons in the top flight with parent club Manchester United followed, with Evans making 131 league appearances for the Red Devils and scoring on four occasions. The Northern Irish international was never able to consolidate a first-team place at Old Trafford, however: Evans largely played second fiddle to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the heart of the United defence, with the 28 starts Evans made in Vidic’s injury-hit 2011/12 season the most he managed in a single campaign for the Reds.
A move to Albion in August 2015 at last brought about the prospect of guaranteed first-team football and Evans went on to make 89 league appearances for the Baggies in three years, helping the West Midlands club to 10th and 14th-placed finishes before their relegation from the Premier League last season.
Evans at West Brom
|Season||Starts||Goals conceded||Clean sheets||Goals scored||Assists|
Barring any further activity in the summer transfer window, Evans will surely line up alongside Maguire at the heart of the Leicester defence next season.
Without Dragovic (or Huth, who barely featured in 2017/18 anyway) to call upon next season, and with Morgan’s best days behind him, Puel badly needed reinforcements in the centre-half position.
Only three sides kept fewer clean sheets than Leicester (nine) last season; indeed, relegated West Brom bettered that total (ten) and conceded fewer goals (56, compared to City’s 60) than the Foxes in 2017/18.
The two sides’ defences were markedly similar in some departments: both clubs had an expected goals conceded (xGC) of 48.5 and allowed the opposition the same number of shots inside their box (286).
Where Albion and Evans excelled was in errors leading to goals: the Throstles only conceded one goal following a slip-up by one of their players, which represented a low among all 20 Premier League clubs (Leicester conceded five).
West Brom also allowed the opposition fewer big chances than City (60 and 66 respectively).
Evans’ Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are a mixed bag compared to his likely central-defensive partner next season: Maguire’s minutes per block, recovery, tackle and successful tackle averages are better than those of Evans, although the Ulsterman trumps the England international in minutes per interception and clearance.
Although Evans managed as many goals as Maguire last season (two), the former’s comparatively conservative approach to defending dents his appeal on the Bonus Points System (BPS).
Evans made fewer key passes than Maguire, Ben Chilwell and Christian Fuchs, while Maguire made more dribbles and created more big chances than Evans last season. Maguire’s BPS pass completion was also superior to his new defensive colleague.
Maguire’s minutes-per-baseline BPS (BBPS), unsurprisingly, was better than any of his fellow Leicester defenders and indeed Evans. Chilwell and Fuchs also had better minutes-per-BBPS means than their new team-mate.
It is regrettable for Evans’ Fantasy prospects, perhaps, that he finds himself lining up alongside a centre-half who packs such a punch in attack. Maguire had 84 penalty box touches last season (Evans had 19) and was presented with five big chances (Evans only had two). Evans’ total number of goal attempts (ten) was a third of Maguire’s (30), meanwhile.
Add Ricardo Pereira into the mix and there are undoubtedly more appealing routes into the Leicester backline next season for those Fantasy managers who like their defenders to carry a goal threat.
Evans’ allure could be his price. The Northern Ireland international started last season at £5.0m, some £0.5m cheaper than his new central defensive partner. Maguire’s underlying attacking statistics in 2017/18 suggests that gap will at the very least stay the same, possibly even increase. Fantasy managers won’t have to wait long for the release of the Fantasy Premier League price list to find out just how farther their budget could go with Evans, rather than Maguire or Pereira, in their squads.
The Foxes’ mixed start, in which they have home matches against Huddersfield and Wolves as well as encounters with Liverpool and Manchester United in their first six fixtures, may deter Fantasy managers from spending heavily on a Leicester defender that they plan to rotate. Evans could, therefore, be the solution to this quandary.
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