Everton’s defence has come in for a fair bit of criticism this season, and with good reason too. After kicking off the season with a clean sheet away from home at Tottenham Hotspur, the Blues have conceded in the next ten league games in a row, including a stretch of six games where they shipped two or more goals a game.
Of the 18 goals the Toffees have allowed this season — fourth worst in the Premier League — a number of those can be considered to be on Jordan Pickford, who has doomed himself with poor positioning more than once, especially on shots from distance.
It would be unfair to pin all five goals that Pickford has conceded from outside the box especially as opponents are allowed to fire away at will with no defensive pressure, but the England #1 insists that the ‘team defence’ mentality is foremost in everyone’s minds.
“Everyone wants to keep a clean sheet, starting from Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] up front. You can see how much he presses and how hard he works off the ball. That’s the trigger. Dominic is the first line of defence.
“It’s about being resilient and giving it your all.”
The Toffees gave up another one this last weekend as Robbie Brady had plenty of time to settle himself and find the far post past Pickford’s despairing dive within the first three minutes of the game at Burnley.
“I know we conceded one [against Burnley], but you’ve got set-pieces coming in, you’ve got Dominic heading things, Michael [Keane] and Yerry [Mina] doing the same and players like Allan and Andre [Gomes] putting in blocks. That’s a clean sheet mentality.
“We’re showing the Everton fans how much we want to keep a clean sheet. That passion, those challenges going in, those headers being won, we know the Everton fans love that. If there were 40,000 at Goodison and those challenges are being won, the fans love that stuff.
“We’ve got the ability and we’ve got all the talent to cause problems in the attack. But when we’re seeing people putting their bodies on the line to defend, that’s the character we need to show.”
While much of the mainstream media continues to make a global crisis out of Pickford’s tackle on Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk during the Merseyside Derby with a resultant drop off in form for the 26-year-old, in recent games he looks calmer and has done better on a personal level.
He certainly looked at his very best against Leeds United and against the Clarets pulling off some excellent saves, quick off his line when needed, venturing boldly into crowded areas and generally asserting himself in his own box.
“I’ve got to be ready for anything. When called upon, it’s about being there for the lads, making those saves and being in that moment. I feel like I’m building momentum.
“I live off clean sheets. We want to win games by keeping clean sheets. I train hard with Kells [goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly] and the other keepers every day in training to aim to do that.
“I’ll keep learning and keep trying to get better.”
For Everton to finish in the upper reaches of the league table, sorting out their defensive woes is going to be of paramount importance as they will not be able to score two or more goals every game. While Carlo Ancelotti still has some work to do with settling on a formation that provides Pickford with more protection, having the Englishman in a calm and confident headspace is certainly a cornerstone for a strong campaign.