Everton have now had two clean sheets in a row at Goodison Park with six points resulting from those two games, and central defender Michael Keane has been a big part of that run.
While still not the fastest defender around, his positioning has certainly improved from last season and he’s looked very strong in the air too. The Blues left it late yesterday and in an interview with Match of the Day after the game, Keane spoke about nerves starting to set in as it remained scoreless until late.
“Sometimes you start to think that (it’s not going to happen), when it’s late after the 80th minute and you’ve not found a breakthrough. But we still kept that belief, kept trying and pressing forward. Of course we had to be wary of them on the counter attack, they’re very strong at that.
“I thought we put a lot of pressure on them without creating too many clear-cut chances, but we kept getting into the right positions and a few fell for us in the end.”
Keane also picked up an unlikely assist on the goal that sealed the three points with his long clearance from the backline finding a streaking Cenk Tosun through on goal.
“I just saw out of the corner of my eye there and then... [laughs]
“It’s just one of them, you don’t take any risks and put it down the channel as long as you can and you never know, you take the chance that things like that might happen. Luckily Cenk was on it and he took it well, it was a great finish.
“It’s late in the game, we’re on-nil up, that’s the striker job, to get on that side of the ball. Luckily it was long enough and went straight to him and put him in on goal.”
Everton have conceded just once in three games since his return from a horrific head injury, and his partnership with Kurt Zouma is looking really good right now. The second clean sheet of the season at Goodison Park was very welcome too.
“I think that’s the most pleasing thing to be honest, another clean sheet. I’ve played four or five games with Kurt now and it’s been brilliant playing with him. It’s good to get some stability in the back four and the experience of Seamus [Coleman] coming back in as well - although I think Jonjoe [Kenny] has been great when he’s played.
“It’s been really good so far, though it’s only nine-ten games in and we’ve got to keep it going.”
When asked if Everton were doing anything different in terms of pre-match preparations under Marco Silva, Keane was effusive in his praise for the new manager.
“Our preparation is a lot more detailed. We work on the opposition and what we’re going to do a good few days before the game. We do it for quite a long time so we’re well-drilled and know exactly what we’re doing on the ball and defensively as well.
“We work on set plays a lot, we want to be strong in every aspect of our game when we’re on it. That’s the main difference really.
“We do a lot of work on it, mainly on organization defensively, but also coming up with new things attacking. Most games we create chances from setplays, I should have done better with a few today.
“We’ve got people like Lucas [Digne] and Gylfi [Sigurdsson] who can put it on a sixpence for us, so if we work on them during training we know we’ll get chances.”
Keane was leading the League in chances from setpieces with 12 before yesterday, and added another header that went wide from a corner against Crystal Palace. Defensively, the Blues have made some improvements in setpieces, but still give up some dangerous chances like Daniel Amartey’s header flashing wide late against Leicester City and then from James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate yesterday.
The defender also talked about the difficulty in integrating a number of new faces in the squad and getting them settled in and playing the manager’s style.
“I think especially when a club brings in between five and ten players in at once, it’s not just one senior player, it’s a whole new dynamic of the squad. People are getting to know each other, getting to know how they play, and obviously stability helps with the management.
“This season we’ve got that, the lads have settled in a little bit more, the new lads have had some time to bed in, it’s not just five-six players getting thrown straight in there, and that’s the difference.”
Fans can certainly see the benefits of stability and the players starting to get the manager’s message over the last few games. The onus now remains on the manager and players to keep that going with some tougher tests on the horizon, especially away from Goodison Park.