Jarrad Branthwaite is Everton’s star defender: Sean Dyche explains how he has become a key player this season
Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored the only goal of the match as Everton secured a hard-fought 1-0 win against West Ham United on Sunday, but the striker was not the player of the match. That honor belonged to Everton’s young defender Jarrad Branthwaite.
In fact, he was the catalyst for the goal, surpassing Michail Antonio’s hulking frame with an exceptional display of defense in the front foot to keep the attack going. On the other hand, he was instrumental in keeping Everton’s first clean sheet of the season.
Indeed, it had been more than two years since the Toffees had won a Premier League match on the road without conceding. Everton remain a work in progress, but Branthwaite’s return after a loan spell at PSV has been more important than any signing.
At West Ham, especially when the pressure increased in the closing stages, he was the one who fended them off. When the final whistle blew, Branthwaite had scored ten times in the match – more than twice as many as any other player on the pitch.
In addition to his physicality, he has injected pace into the backline and also shown composure in possession. When I spoke exclusively to Everton boss Sean Dyche about Branthwaite at the club’s training ground, it seemed it was only a matter of time for him.
“He was very unhappy in the preparation,” says Dyche Air sports.
“He missed two and a half weeks of pre-season training. That might have given him the opportunity to go ahead and start the season.” As it was, Branthwaite only had to sit out the first two games, both defeats. Since then he has been a permanent fixture in the team.
“Once he was fit, he seized his opportunity.”
Suddenly Jordan Pickford seems better protected, with the left-footed Branthwaite proving to be an ideal opponent for James Tarkowski. “You’ve got Jordan behind him and Tarky next to him,” says Dyche. “They are good players to have around and experienced players.”
Still just 21, Branthwaite remains a relative novice in this kind of company, but this felt like a coming-of-age performance in what is proving to be a breakthrough season for the player, albeit more than three years after his Premier League debut for Everton. .
He got a taste of it during the pandemic and there was a goal against Chelsea in 2021. But before this recent outing under Dyche, his only Premier League appearance at Goodison Park with supporters in the stadium had resulted in an early red. card.
His rental period in Eindhoven has improved him. Branthwaite played more games for the Eredivisie last season than for Everton, youth club Carlisle United or Blackburn Rovers, where he played half a season on loan at the beginning of 2021.
Branthwaite himself describes his PSV action as the best thing he could have done. His head coach there, a certain Ruud van Nistelrooy, called him the complete defender. His completion percentage of 87.2 percent was among the highest in the country.
Dyche had followed his progress in the Netherlands. “We had good reports,” he reveals. “I spoke to him on the phone a few times. Nothing heavy. Just to let him know I was here and get a little feel for him.” Enough to encourage him that the door was ajar.
Branthwaite has now kicked it open.
Interestingly, Dyche suggests he is drip-feeding information, wary of overloading him. “We’re still keeping the coaching level pretty low and just letting him learn as he goes.” After having already played against Arsenal and Liverpool, that on-the-job training is fast approaching.
For now, the emphasis is on “cues, positional things, tactical things, those aspects of understanding” that many may miss but that can actually make a difference at the highest level. “Little details that I know as a central defender because I was one,” Dyche continues.
“A lot of it is about living in that defensive zone. Not just on the first press, but on that second press as well. Do you dare to win a ball? Once the ball has passed, do you drive back to the key areas? Things like that. You want to accelerate that learning.”
Tactically and technically, Branthwaite is making progress. Physically, he is now a force at Premier League level. Mentally he has everything it takes to succeed. “He works hard on his game. He listens. He is very open-minded and enjoys his football.”
The final proof came from his match-winning performance at West Ham.