One of the main issues for Everton this season has been the lack of continuity among the club’s defensive personnel. It’s been a laundry list of problems - injuries, new signings, managerial selections, and now, perhaps, too many choices.
A constant among the nonsense, though, is that the Blues’ best defensive work is almost always done with captain Phil Jagielka anchoring the back line. That’s been no more evident than in the past two matches, where the 35 year old has formed an impressive partnership with Michael Keane.
Jagielka understands his part in bringing Keane along, and it’s beginning to pay dividends on the pitch.
I have always tried to talk as much as I can. We have had a load of talented lads over the past couple of years but some have been quite quiet.
I do not think they realise how much talking or passing on of information can help them and their teammates.
With Michael, he is quite a quiet lad and I have openly said, ‘Shout at me, shout at someone else, no-one is taking anything personally, we need to know where everyone is’, and I think that is something he has in him.
At the start of his career here we had a few difficult periods so it was probably natural go into your shell a little bit.
But I am encouraging him to be himself and be a boss at the back – whether you are a loud person on or off the pitch, when you are on the pitch you need to pass on information.
It is getting that way and we have had some lively discussions on the pitch which is brilliant. That is testament to him. It is how it used to be with Tim Howard and now with Seamus Coleman.
It is healthy. It is a case of you wanting to find a solution as soon as possible.
According to the Everton website, Keane and Jagielka have started five matches together under Sam Allardyce, leading to three wins and one draw. It isn’t perfect, but it’s quite an improvement over what we saw from any combination of Mason Holgate, Ashley Williams, and Eliaquim Mangala.
With Jagielka back fit and in favor and Ramiro Funes Mori returned from injury, the Blues’ options in the center of defense are much improved from earlier in the season. The biggest change, though, could be attributed to the improvement of Keane, something that Jagielka understands:
I probably had six months where I did not play much [after joining] and Leighton Baines was similar. The good thing about us back then [summer 2007] was that it was a settled team.
There were only four signings – me, Bainesy, Steven Pienaar and Yakubu – whereas this season there have been a lot of new arrivals.
Times have changed and it is a little bit different but not having too many changes in the team does help people settle in and, hopefully, that will be the case until the end of the season.
You can see Michael’s confidence is coming back, so these games will put him in good stead going forward.
The important thing as defenders is to help each other out. We will make mistakes but you have three or four lads around you who want to help you get out of the situation.
Given the captain’s age, the partnership isn’t a perfect solution moving forward. A new central defender will be required in the summer. For now, though, the stability and professionalism of Jagielka and Keane together with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman is a breath of fresh air.