After a January that saw Everton win three out of three games in the Premier League with no goals conceded, Ronald Koeman can be well-pleased with how his side is shaping up. Immediately after he signed on with the Blues, he put a strong emphasis on squad fitness, going on to say that the side was only 70% to begin the season.
It was more an indictment of the Roberto Martinez era with the relaxed practices than anything, but from that point on fans could see that fitness would be a priority with this team. And the results were clear to see during the hectic holiday period as well, when Everton were still looking spry and indefatigable late in games.
Aggression is the other mantra that Koeman preaches long and loud, and his message has been getting through to the players. It would not be hyperbolic to say that the Toffees season turned against the Gunners when James McCarthy went in hard for a couple of tackles, Goodison Park came alive and so did the flickering flame of Everton’s European hopes.
“I think we had a really good start to the season. The middle period was difficult, we spoke about that. We needed to play with more aggression.
“From the beginning of December when we played Arsenal at home, I see a difference in the team. I see a difference in how we play and how compact the team is. We are on a good run.
“Everybody knows the Premier League is really difficult. It’s not about the name of the opponent you need to fight – you need to play with aggression. And it’s a different team.
“Of course we changed players, it’s a different system at the moment. But everybody feels really comfortable in the way we play and how we train.
“We need to really try and give our best for the expectation there always is at Everton.”
Southampton finished the season on a tear last year, primarily due to their superior fitness as their rivals for a European spot faltered with heavy legs in the spring. When asked if that could be achieved with the Toffees this season, he agreed.
“Yes it’s possible. But most of the time my team is also, fitness-wise, strong until the end of the season. It’s the way we like to train. It’s intensive sessions – not long sessions. It’s all about football and most of the time, not always, it means we get a really good end of the season.
“Most of the time the team is fresh and playing with a lot of intensity. That’s the best way to get the best results.
“Always by changing the manager, you get new ideas. You get different exercises in training. Normally my teams do more intensive training sessions and you need time for that. You can’t change this in two weeks. Players need to understand and need to change.
“With younger players it’s normally easier to change because they are really young and open to everything. But I am happy with all the team players, all the squad at the moment.”