Everton started their Premier League campaign thin on the ground in defence after failing to land summer target Kurt Zouma from Chelsea and struggling to find a replacement before the start of the season.

This meant across this campaign, they have been heavily reliant on a rotating defensive trio consisting of Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina and Michael Keane.

Whilst both Holgate and Mina have established themselves as key players for the Blues, Keane has struggled for game time under new manager Carlo Ancelotti.

With the above in mind, it’s interesting to note that one player heavily linked with a move to Goodison Park in recent weeks has been centre back Gabriel Magalhaes.

The 22-year-old broke into Lille’s first-team last season and helped them secure a top-two finish.

He has built on his promising form from last year this season, solidifying himself as one of the club's first-choice centre backs, accruing well over 2000 minutes of league action.

Gabriel's heatmap and Lille's formation (the defender wears number four)
Gabriel's heatmap and Lille's formation (the defender wears number four)

He has featured almost exclusively as a left-sided centre back in Lille’s 4-4-2, a formation similar to the one Everton use, although Christophe Galtier’s tactics do differ slightly from Ancelotti's.

Prior to Ligue 1 halting, Lille boasted the fifth-best defensive record in the division and also had the fifth-lowest Expected Goals Against (xGA) total in the league too.

Whilst this looks impressive, how much of that can we attribute to the performances of Gabriel?

Magalhaes percentile graph
Magalhaes percentile graph

(You can view the above in high-definition here)

Initially looking at defensive attributes alone, the Lille man is showing up well. Despite his age, he is boosted by a 6ft3in frame that helps him overcome more experienced opposition attackers in duels.

He is way above the league average in his position for both defensive duels and aerial duels won with 69.23% and 64.34% respectively. In fact, only five centre backs in the league could better that average in the air this season.

The 22-year-old combines that physical prowess with a high footballing IQ, rarely lunging into rash challenges resulting in fouls in dangerous areas. Furthermore, Lille will often play a high defensive line, meaning he can regularly be tested with balls in behind, yet he boasts good pace and can compete up with most attackers in a leg race.

The defender is heavily relied upon when Lille are in possession, averaging around 56.6 passes per 90 minutes. Despite that high amount, he illustrates an impressive pass success rate. This is because he is a capable and varied passer of the ball. The Brazilian can drill a ball into the feet of an attacker, keep the ball moving across a backline or indeed hit a lofted switched pass to a winger on the far flank.

Lille tend to dominate the ball and have the sixth-highest PPDA against in the division. What this means in basic terms is that they will often face sides opting to sit in compact mid to low blocks.

This can make passing through the lines difficult, however, this is an area where Gabriel aids his side. He ranks just outside the top 25% in the league in his position for progressive runs made per 90 with 1.05.

Gabriel is in possession but have very few passing options available
Gabriel is in possession but have very few passing options available

Holgate has proven a strong ball carrier from defence at Everton this season with an average of 1.38 progressive runs per 90 minutes.

A benefit of this is that the defender bringing the ball out of defence can place his side in a better position territorially, disorganise a compact shape and create better passing angles to find team-mates.

Gabriel therefore drives into the opponents half and creates better passing angles to combine with team-mates
Gabriel therefore drives into the opponents half and creates better passing angles to combine with team-mates

Based on the above, there’s plenty to like about Gabriel.

He is one of the top-performing defenders in Ligue 1, is still just 22 and is unlikely to demand a fee in excess of £30million.

For these reasons, the Toffees aren’t the only Premier League side interested, with the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal also reportedly keen on the Brazilian.