Everton host Newcastle United on Saturday in the Premier League with the opportunity to make up ground on the top four, with the Blues sitting four points behind Liverpool with two games in hand. Are the players as motivated with qualifying for the Champions League as the manager Carlo Ancelotti is taking this squad there?
“For a player’s career playing in the Champions League is another step forward. For our players, this has to be a strong, strong motivation and they know this and we are working on this.
“It will be difficult, we are in a good position now, but we have to fight for this and we are going to fight for this. It doesn’t mean we are going to reach it, but I can assure you we are going to fight for it.”
The Blues will need to find the sparkling form they started the season with to sustain their charge in what is looking like the most open Premier League in years, starting with the forward line where the goals haven’t been flowing as they did earlier.
“Of course James gave to us more quality in front. He started well, had some problems in the middle, and is now back. He is important, just like the others. We need to have the best from James, from Richarlison, from Calvert-Lewin, from Iwobi who is doing really well, to reach our target we are going to need their best performances possible.
“I am quite happy with our position in the table. It could be better because we lost some points that we didn’t have to lose but I think we can improve. We have to improve because there is a lot of competition, a lot of unpredictable games, every go is difficult and so complicated.
“I think we have the possibility to improve the quality of our play and our style.”
If he plays tomorrow, Gylfi Sigurdsson will mark 300 games in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City and now Everton, and has said previously that his time with the Blues is the happiest been so far.
“I think it is a great achievement to be able to reach 300 games, it is fantastic.
“He is doing really well, I am really pleased with him. He is a fantastic professional, a fantastic player, can play in different positions. Maybe sometimes I didn’t use him in the position that he prefers but he never complained. He is always focused and is a team player.
“The [captain’s] armband belongs to Seamus, but he is another captain in the squad for his behaviour and his attitude.”
After their early season defensive struggles, Everton have now not conceded more than once in their last nine games, what did Ancelotti attribute that to?
“As I said we have more consistency now. We are more focused defensively. It’s true most of these games we have defended more than attacked, we want to attack more of course, but to be able to defend when you have to defend is important.
“One of the qualities of a team is to be able to read the situation. When you have to defend and you try to attack is a mistake, and when you have to attack and you defend is a mistake. I think we were able to read the situation of the games.”
With the improved defensive performances, is it the attacking side of the game that needs improvement in the second half of the season?
“We showed that we are comfortable when defending deep. Now we have to improve and be comfortable to defend when the defensive line is a bit higher. That will give us the opportunity to press forward, to get the ball further forward, more opportunities to score goals. This is the step we have to take.
“Try to have consistency when the defensive line is fifteen metres higher.”
What is his personal relationship like with James, and how is it that the Colombian superstar has picked up all his goals and assists only at home this season?
“I think it’s just a coincidence that he did better at Goodison Park. We are playing behind closed doors without fans, so it means it’s just a coincidence.
“My relationship with him is normal like the others. I don’t have a different relationship with James and the other players. I try to treat them in the same way.”