The assured performances of Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite have sparked discussion as to whether he’s due a senior England call-up. We analyse the numbers behind his impressive season to date.

After Lewis Dunk rose highest in the Everton box to equalise for Brighton in the 95th minute of stoppage time last weekend, Jarrad Branthwaite hoisted his shorts up above his thighs and looked exasperatedly at the sky.

He knew what had just happened. Everton had just thrown away a golden chance to put an end to their eight-game winless streak. As it was, Sean Dyche’s side had to settle for a point and, although the peril of their predicament was subsequently softened by an independent commission’s decision to reduce their Premier League points penalty from 10 to six points, they still sit just five points off the relegation zone.

What Branthwaite may not have known as Dunk’s header soared past a diving Jordan Pickford was that his side had just conceded their first headed goal all season. That’s a league-low figure – tied with Aston Villa – but after 26 matchdays Everton had held out the longest to concede their first.

Everton’s performances have merited better results than they’ve actually yielded for most of the season, and in no area is that more true than in defence, where 21-year-old Branthwaite and the experienced James Tarkowski have formed an excellent relationship. Together with Pickford, the trio have underpinned an Everton rearguard that has conceded the fourth-fewest expected goals all season (35.9), behind the big three of Arsenal (18.5), Manchester City (24.9) and Liverpool (32.2) – and one that has kept eight clean sheets in total.

While Tarkowski is having a fine season in his own right, it has been the assured performances of his young centre-back partner that have gained the most attention.

At 6-foot-5, Branthwaite is an imposing defender, who despite his age already has a lot of desirable physical attributes working for him; he’s strong, extremely quick and powerful in the air. The Englishman is beginning to combine those physical traits with solid technique on the ball as well as a calmness in possession.

It’s rare for a player as young as Branthwaite to be this established so young. Still aged just 21, he is one of only three players aged 21 or under to play over 2,000 minutes this Premier League campaign, and only one of two outfielders.

Premier League minutes by under 21s

Branthwaite has started 23 of Everton’s 26 games this season. Twenty-two of those have seen him paired with Tarkowski, making the Branthwaite-Tarkowski duo the joint-most common centre-back partnership in the top flight alongside Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba at Arsenal.

Dyche clearly trusts his young defender, and a player of Branthwaite’s mould fits perfectly with the Everton boss’ focus on dominating both boxes.

Overall in 2023-24, Branthwaite has won 68.7% of his duels (both aerial and ground) in the Premier League. Just three other centre-backs can better that, and while his aerial win rate of 67.4% is slightly lower, it still ranks him inside the 88th percentile among all centre-halves in Europe’s top five leagues.

Centre-back best duel success rates

That aerial supremacy allows him and Tarkowski to dominate at Everton’s defensive set-pieces. Only Dominic Calvert-Lewin (15) – often stationed at the near post to clear away underhit deliveries – has won the first contact at defensive corners more times than Tarkowski (14) and Branthwaite (10).

In fact, Everton are so good at repelling crosses that sides have just flat-out stopped trying to deliver corners into the box against them. Teams have opted to take 34% of all their corners against Everton short, a full 7% more than any other team in the division.

Just 18% of Everton’s shots conceded have come via headers – the fifth-lowest proportion in the top flight – and the aerial prowess of Branthwaite is a significant contributing factor to why that is a sub-optimal way to attack the Toffees.

Percentages of shots faced headers Premier League 2023-24

Now, playing in a side that doesn’t see a lot of the ball – Everton’s average possession of 38.5% is the second lowest in the division – means Branthwaite and his teammates are always going to rank highly for aggregated defensive metrics such as duels, tackles and blocks, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need doing. Branthwaite is one of only three Premier League players this season to have won 50+ aerial duels (60), make 25+ interceptions (40), complete 25+ tackles (25), and make 20+ blocks (21), along with Tarkowski and Bournemouth’s Illia Zabarnyi.

Although he’s a pivotal part of Everton’s low block, Branthwaite has certainly showcased an ability to play as a front-foot defender and he possesses the recovery pace to play in a team that deploys a far higher defensive line.

He reads the game excellently and is adept at stepping in front of his marker to make timely challenges, and his 1.7 interceptions per 90 is the fourth highest in the league among centre-backs.

The below are just two examples of Branthwaite getting tight to his opponent, before anticipating a pass into the striker’s feet and crunching in with a tackle.

Branthwaite stepping in 1
Branthwaite stepping in 2
Branthwaite stepping in vs Liverpool
Branthwaite stepping in vs Liverpool 2

But Branthwaite shows much more potential than just being a physical, combative defender. Although Everton have been defending for large swathes of the season, he’s demonstrated composure on the ball, particularly against Manchester City, when he neatly played out of tight areas. He also has the prized attribute of being a left-footed centre-back.

His most recent goal against Brighton was a fine example of his technical quality, instantly controlling a knock-down in the box with his right foot before whipping a fine finish inside the far post with his left.

Branthwaite impressed in the Netherlands last season at PSV in a team much more willing to dominate the ball. They averaged 55.6% possession and 3.6 passes per sequence in the Dutch Eredivisie last term – both the fourth-highest marks in the division. The English centre-back developed brilliantly in that system, making 21 starts in the Eredivisie, ranking inside the top 10 for passing accuracy among centre-halves (87.1%).

And there are signs that – when Everton do choose to build up through the thirds – he has the ability to launch attacks. The defender has been involved in the build-up to 34 separate shots (without taking the shot or creating the chance) for Everton this campaign to date, a figure higher than any other teammate.

Everton build up to a shot
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Branthwaite struggled when he first broke into the Everton team back in 2019-20, but loan spells at Blackburn and particularly PSV have seen him return to Goodison Park a far more rounded Premier League player.

But even back in 2020, then-boss Carlo Ancelotti talked about the promise Branthwaite showed.

“I am really happy with him. He is really young, a kid, but he showed quality and personality and character.

“He is really calm with the ball, really comfortable, and really aggressive without the ball. He can be a fantastic player for us.”

Branthwaite’s performances are gaining serious attention, with the exciting defender tipped for an England international call-up in the lead-up to Euro 2024. Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright suggested he should already be in the squad, calling the Everton defender a “monster”  who “has got everything.”

Manchester United are also reportedly interested in acquiring his services (of course they are) as they look to enter another rebuild under the new INEOS ownership. Branthwaite would offer a long-term solution at left centre-back, a position where United may feel they need an alternative to the seemingly injury-prone Lisandro Martínez. Branthwaite, who signed a new four-year contract with Everton in October, would certainly not come cheap.

With Harry Maguire – who has long been a favourite of Gareth Southgate’s – struggling for consistency at Manchester United, there is a real chance for Branthwaite to make a challenge for the centre-back spot for England at Euro 2024 beside John Stones. The way things have gone so far, he appears to be surely destined for the top.

Enjoy this? Subscribe to our football newsletter to receive exclusive weekly content. You should also follow our social accounts over on XInstagramTikTok and Facebook.