February 25, 2024

Everton Under-21s Head Coach Paul Tait insists competition for places is essential for the development of his young side.

The young Blues are to set to open their Premier League International Cup campaign next week, when they take on Athletic Club Under-21s at Walton Hall Park on Wednesday (7pm GMT).

Jenson Metcalfe has been a standout performer for the Toffees so far this season. Traditionally a holding midfielder, the 19-year-old has primarily operated in an advanced-midfield position this campaign – and Tait reveals the switch was decided upon by the coaching staff.

 

“That was our idea, really,” said Tait, speaking to evertonfc.com. “When Luke (Butterfield) came back into the team, we decided to move Jenson further forward.

“I think Luke’s natural position is the six – he’s very good at that both in and out of possession. Whether we’ve got a single pivot or a double pivot, he’s very good in that position.

“Jenson is great there, too. He brings different strengths, but he’s also a real goal threat and he can assist. Particularly against Norwich and Arsenal, earlier on this season, he really showed he can play higher up and be a threat.

“That was the plan, but sometimes things don’t always work out. We’ve since lost Luke through injury, so Jenson could return to a deeper role.

“But we want competition for places. Sometimes, when you don’t have many players, it can affect your training because they could just assume they’re playing.

“In that midfield – I know Luke and Tyler (Onyango) are out – but we’ve had some of the younger lads come in, and we want five, six, seven players challenging for those three places in there. That can only be good for the boys individually, and for the team.”

Another alteration to the young Blues’ midfield arrived through the return of Sean McAllister.

A talented 21-year-old, McAllister featured for the first time this term in late October, before scoring in early November against Manchester United.

Often the captain last season, he recorded six goal contributions in 17 Premier League 2 appearances during 2022/23, and displayed impressive versatility in those performances, featuring in central-midfield, as well as at right-back and on the wing.

His availability provides a boost, says Tait, who revealed how injuries to Butterfield and Onyango could create an opportunity for another midfield prospect.

“Sean can also play in that holding-midfield role,” added Tait. “He’s an experienced player and he can help us in there with his attributes – his strength and his power.

But if you speak to Sean, he’ll want to be higher up the pitch because he sees himself as a goal threat and an assister.

“We want to get him and Jenson playing together, and then there’s an opportunity for someone else to play in that three-man midfield.

“That’s the likes of Halid (Djankpata) or Isaac (Heath). If not one of them, then we’d be looking at some of the Under-18 boys like Callum (Bates), Jack (Patterson), or Matty Apter, but he’s injured at the minute.

“There may be further opportunities for those lads because we can have seven subs, as well.”

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