Sam Allardyce expects France international Eliaquim Mangala’s experience of thriving at the highest level of world football to prove an “invaluable” asset for Everton.
Allardyce completed a deadline-day loan move for Manchester City centre-back Mangala, a three-times title winner in two countries and a player with rich footballing pedigree.
The manager, who will become the fifth boss to take charge of 500 Premier League matches when Everton meet Arsenal on Saturday, has juggled the quartet of Ashley Williams, Michael Keane, Phil Jagielka and Mason Holgate in the middle of the Blues’ back four during his Goodison Park reign.
And with the addition of Mangala, a fulcrum of Porto’s invincible championship-winning campaign in 2012/13, and a Champions League semi-finalist in 2016 with City, Allardyce is confident he has strengthened his defensive hand even further.
“Eliaquim's experience in world of football at the highest level, wherever he has played, will hopefully prove invaluable to us,” Allardyce told evertontv.
“I have been rotating the central defenders for a good while now. It is nothing new. I am searching for the clean sheet, which is the basic responsibility of the goalkeeper and back four.
“Everybody is responsible for it, but no-one more than them. And I am still searching for that.
“That is why, when Mangala came up as an opportunity, it was a chance for me to say, ‘Will that make us defensively better?’
“Hopefully, that will prove to be the case."
Mangala, who could potentially make his Everton bow in the clash with Arsene Wenger's Arsenal this weekend, was a title winner in his first season as a professional with Standard Liege – and was playing regular Champions League football for the Belgian team before his 19th birthday. Indeed, Mangala scored two minutes into his debut in the competition back in 2009, for Standard against... Arsenal.
He subsequently helped steer Porto to a Europa League quarter-final – shutting out Napoli’s razor-sharp Argentine marksman Gonzalo Higuain in the process.
The 26-year-old was also integral to City’s run to the Champions League last-four in 2016, when he was the linchpin of a defence that repelled a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain attack in a tight quarter-final contest.
It is those credentials which the Toffees boss hopes Mangala can bring to bear on his new team. Allardyce also drew a comparison with his capture of Mangala’s compatriot, Mamadou Sakho, when he was bossing Crystal Palace 12 months ago.
Palace won five and drew one of centre-half Sakho’s first seven games in the Eagles’ backline – a stretch in which the south London side also recorded four clean sheets.
“We now have a naturally left-footed player – apart from Leighton Baines, he is the only naturally left-footed player we have in our entire squad,” said Allardyce.
“I hope he has as big an influence on Everton’s team when he plays as Mamadou Sakho had when I took him to Palace last year – and we have to thank Manchester City for letting us have him until the end of the season.”
Another of Everton’s January recruits, Theo Walcott, will be aiming to continue his dazzling start to life with the Blues when he comes face to face with former team Arsenal for the first time since ending his 12-year Gunners stay.
On snaring England international Walcott from the Londoners, Allardyce expressed his hope that the attacker would "hit the ground running" in an Everton shirt.
The 28-year-old has answered his manager’s call in emphatic fashion, forming a buccaneering right-sided partnership with fit-again Seamus Coleman and scoring both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Leicester City – following an encouraging debut two weeks ago when he laid on a point-saving goal for Oumar Niasse.
Allardyce, then, is naturally thrilled with Walcott’s initial impact at Goodison – and hopes the forward’s exalted standards can serve to inspire the wealth of talented youngsters in the Blues’ squad.
“If a younger player looks at somebody like Theo and says, ‘what have I got to do to improve my game?’ – and it is the same with Seamus and all the senior pros – and ‘what do I have to do to get better than the players who are already there?’ [they will benefit]," said Allardyce.
“We have a lot of young players gaining huge amounts of experience, more than anybody else in the country.
"We are almost teaching them about how to get better on the frontline. When they look back at the experience they have gained this year, it should stand them in good stead to be better players next season. And to be able to provide more quality performances for the team, as everybody will be asked to do.
“I was delighted with Theo’s level of performance the other night and the understanding he picked up straight away with Seamus.
“Your combinations are what football is about: your widemen linking up with your full-backs and frontman, your midfield pairing interchanging, and your two central defenders understanding how each other plays to try to get that clean sheet.
“The pairings are very important and that looked exceptionally good the other night. Hopefully that can continue.”