It is true that all good things must come to an end, and on Sunday, Everton’s excellent undefeated start to the campaign was ended by Southampton in a 2-0 defeat at St Mary's.

The fallout from the loss has on the whole been fairly level headed with most in and around Goodison Park satisfied with the impressive start that still sees the Toffees sitting top of the Premier League table, despite Sunday’s defeat.

However perhaps more damaging than the defeat itself, in Sunday's fixture, influential left-back Lucas Digne picked up a straight red card for what was deemed as a reckless challenge on Kyle Walker-Peters in the second half.

In his post-match interview, Carlo Ancelotti didn’t hold back on expressing his views of the incident: "It was a joke - it was not intentional. It was not violent conduct so they could've checked better."

The Everton boss also indicated that the club will be appealing the decision.

Despite this, there is no guarantee that the three-match ban will be overturned meaning that the Blues could be without the French international for fixtures against Newcastle United, Manchester United and Fulham.

If this does prove to be the case, the onus will be on recent recruit Niels Nkounkou to step up in his place.

Nkounkou was somewhat of an unknown quantity when signed from Marseille in the summer and he has made just three senior appearances so far for the Blues. Yet, in each, he has shown promising signs of a player set for a bright future.

His first two appearances came in the Carabao Cup against lower league opposition in the form of Fleetwood Town and Salford City.

As you’d expect, Everton dominated both fixtures, securing a 66%+ possession average and attempting over 22 shots on goal in each. The Blues dominance allowed Nkounkou to showcase his standout capabilities in attack.

He looked quick and powerful, but yet also skillful and intelligent, making clever runs and applying exquisite touches to bypass challenges from opposing defenders.

His performance level against both Fleetwood and Salford is perhaps best captured in his impressive attacking and creative numbers.

Across both fixtures, he made a combined 12 progressive runs, successfully completed 12/14 attempted dribbles, attempted 16 crosses, registered three passes leading directly to a shot on goal and of course secured one assist with an audacious backheel in the penalty area for Moise Kean to convert against Fleetwood.

Obviously, it’s tough to measure how imposing these numbers are against inferior opposition, yet for some form of context, below are those numbers when compared to right-back Jonjoe Kenny who also featured in both fixtures on the opposite flank.

Nkounkou vs Kenny
Nkounkou vs Kenny

After impressing in both of those fixtures, a sterner test for Nkounkou came in the form of Premier League opponents West Ham United in the next round of the competition. It felt an important fixture for the 19-year-old given that it would be the first in which his defensive capabilities were sure to be tested.

Nkounkou was tasked with keeping Andriy Yarmolenko, a seasoned Urkianian international and tricky customer at bay. However despite that tall order, Nkounkou not only coped, but he also impressed.

It’s difficult to quantify the performance of defenders in numbers alone due to the fact that the bulk of statistics for defenders tend to be accumulated through duels. Yet, a defender's game is often built on a lot of good work that happens before engaging with an attacker. Things such as good positioning, anticipating threat and marshalling attackers away from goal without having to lunge in and make a risky challenge.

Still, there is some value in measuring things such as defensive duels won and in the fixture vs West Ham, Nkounkou came out on top in 55% of his defensive duels. For context, Digne has a success rate of 56.9% in his defensive duels in the Premier League this season.

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Additionally, Yarmolenko finished the match having failed to attempt a single shot, make any passes leading to a shot and having completed just two successful dribbles. Each of these perhaps proved a testament to Nkounkou’s ability to keep him shackled on the night.

Despite this competent defensive display, attacking output did subside against the Hammers when compared to both Fleetwood and Salford, meaning questions remain as to whether he can replicate the attacking influence of Digne across these next three Premier League matches.

The Frenchman is consistently one of Everton’s most creative forces. He’s a threat in dead-ball situations and also exudes relentless stamina in getting up and down the flank for full 90 minutes, making crucial overlapping runs and swinging in dangerous balls into the box.

He finished the previous season having made more passes leading to shots than any other Everton player - this was the case even when you remove his set-piece contributions.

In an attacking sense, Nkounkou has shown that he is capable of producing standout attacking displays, yet can he reproduce them vs elite-level opposition? Equally, he’s exhibited an ability to defensively go toe to toe with a top Premier League attacker, but can he reproduce that across potentially these next three matches, adjusting and adapting to the different threats that each opponent he comes up against will pose?

We will only know the answers to those questions on the other side of the coming weeks. However, Ancelotti and Everton will be hoping that the answer to both questions will be yes, especially given that the starting 11 is already looking depleted due to existing injuries and suspensions.

It’s going to be a big few weeks for the new Everton recruit, but it’s a period where he certainly has the opportunity to play a starring role.