Sam Allardyce has called on his Everton players to build on keeping three consecutive clean sheets ahead of the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
The Blues head across Stanley Park on the back of three wins - and shut-outs - on the bounce, following triumphs over West Ham United and Huddersfield Town in the Premier League and Apollon Limassol in the Europa League.
And Allardyce is relishing his first involvement in the Merseyside derby when the two sides meet for the 229th time on Sunday, having watched on from afar over the years.
“It’s always been a must-watch game,” he told evertontv. “Of course, Everton’s recent record is not as good as you’d want it to be but I’m going to try my best to give the team the best opportunity to get a result on Sunday. If that’s the case, we’ll always be absolutely delighted. It’s obviously the biggest test for me since I’ve been here and let’s see what we can do.
“You’ve seen what three clean sheets bring. People seem to not promote the clean sheet in terms of how important it really is. People talk about attacking flair and that’s brilliant - we all want as much of that as we can - but when you’re out of possession, if you’ve got a team who can knock up more clean sheets than anybody else then you’ve got a great chance of being very successful in the Premier League. If you’ve got a great team in possession to go with that, you can win the Premier League. The two need to go hand-in-hand.
“For me, at this moment in time, promoting the defending side of the game has been the key element. That has been proven by the three results we have just got. It’s not stopped our attacking flair - 4-0 against West Ham, 2-0 against Huddersfield and 3-0 last night when we could have scored six. Hopefully that rolls on into Sunday.”
When asked about how much a victory in Sunday’s game would mean to him on a personal level, Allardyce added: “I think I could walk the Everton side of the city pretty well for a week or two, with a few free beers and pats on the back! I think I’d be alright!
“We’ll do our very best. We are without some key players still that we’d like to have in the squad but the players who have played, certainly in the last three game, have done all they can and won them. If they can give their best on Sunday, let’s hope it can get us the result.”
Allardyce also highlighted the importance of his players being in the right frame of mind in the build-up to the game.
“I don’t [want the players to be over-awed by the occasion] and I can help with that,” he added. “I think it’s about keeping them calm - there’s no need for any [extra] motivation from me because I don’t want to over-stimulate them because then you can lose control.
“I think getting the right balance, the right harmony going into the game and the right feeling in the dressing room for the lads to go out and explode and give their all in the game, using their intelligence as well as their ability and tactically to be mindful of what we need to do in and out of possession to try to get a result.”