While Everton’s trio of high-profile summer recruits—James Rodriguez, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan—have stolen the headlines during the Toffees strong start to the season, new arrival Niels Nkounkou has also got fans excited at Goodison Park.
The Merseysiders sit atop the table after three matches, having taken a maximum nine points so far taking in victories over Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace.
They’ve also progressed in the Carabao Cup, easing past lower-league pair Salford City and Fleetwood Town to set up a meeting with West Ham United on Wednesday.
Their congested fixture schedule has allowed Carlo Ancelotti to shuffle his pack, with Nkounkou one of the key beneficiaries.
The young defender has excelled at left-back in the Toffees’ two cup games, suggesting that Everton were wise to allow veteran wideman Leighton Baines to leave when his contract came to an end.
The highlight of Nkounkou’s Everton career to date was the delicious back-heeled assist he served up against Fleetwood, setting up Moise Kean to score—a much-needed confidence booster for him.
It was moment of sumptuous flair from the full-back, darting down the left-back after being played in by Lucas Digne, allowing the defender to cross his body, before flicking the ball back into the path of the Italy striker.
It was fascinating that he dovetailed so well with Digne, the player he has been brought to Goodison Park to understudy, and the youngster should guarantee direct running, impressive footwork and a taste for flamboyance when given the opportunity to impress.
The youngster’s desire to overlap gives an Everton attack that looks staid at times last term another dimension, and his form may tempt Ancelotti to use the option that was trialled at times last term, of moving Digne inside into a back three, with Nkounkou—or previously Baines—operating as a wing-back.
Certainly, his form to date has demonstrated why Juventus were previously understood to be keen on his services.
Even before the Fleetwood game, he had excelled against Salford, beating his man on three occasions and picking out his man with seven successful crosses.
His next outing may well be against the Hammers on Wednesday, opponents who will represent a stiffer challenge than Everton have encountered in their previous two cup games.
The teenager signed a three-year deal upon his arrival at Finch Farm in July, having spent the same amount of time at previous club Olympique de Marseille following a move from Brest.
“Niels is a young, talented player with good technical and physical skills,” Everton Director of Football Marcel Brands said in July, upon his arrival. “We have been following him for months.”
As a youngster, he tasted life in a more advanced role—as a left winger—but it’s as a rampaging left-back that he’s primed to make his mark in English football.
He told the Everton TV that the club’s propensity to give youth a chance—something that has been evident even during Ancelotti’s recent tenure, with the January arrival of Jarrad Branthwaite—convinced him to move to the Merseysiders.
“We all know it can be difficult for young players to break through into senior teams but, as we have seen, Carlo has seen fit to put a lot of faith in me and other younger players,” the left-back began.
“I was conscious of the opportunities Everton have given to other young players if they worked hard and showed they could help the First Team.
“It is going to be a good moment for me to take my chance and really launch my career with Everton.”
While Nkounkou is excited about linking up with France left-back Digne, having already featured for Les Bleus at U-19 level, and based on his brief performances to date, the Toffees may have got their hands on a gem.