Michael Keane says he feels like he "has really settled in" at Everton and is playing his best football since joining the Club – with the defender “desperate” to help the Toffees rediscover the taste of away-day success at former club Burnley on Saturday.
Centre-back Keane joined the Blues in a then potential Club-record deal from the Clarets last summer after a “great” three years at Turf Moor, and admits he is “excited” about returning to his old stomping ground for the first time.
The 25-year-old has started eight of Everton’s past 10 Premier League matches – only missing out against Tottenham Hotspur and the subsequent home clash with West Bromwich Albion in January because of injury – and contributed significantly to the Blues tightening up defensively under Sam Allarydce.
Keane delivered towering displays to help shut out both Chelsea and West Brom after being brought back into the team by manager Allardyce over the Christmas period.
He performed in similarly accomplished fashion in recent victories over Leicester City and Crystal Palace – which extended the Toffees' excellent run of results at Goodison Park, where they have taken 17 points from the past 24 on offer – and has flourished under the tutelage of Allardyce, a centre-half during his 21-year playing career.
Keane also drew praise from fellow defender Ashley Williams following last weekend's one-goal defeat at Watford, with the Welshman labelling his teammate a “top-quality player”.
Asked if he is in his richest vein of form since arriving at Goodison Park, Keane told evertontv: “Yes, definitely. I feel like I have really settled in now and started to play the best football I have played since I have been here, consistently.
“It does not help when the team loses [as at Watford] but I have been reasonably pleased with how I have been playing. I know I can still improve and I am working hard to do that.
“But I think, in general, the team has been doing a bit better lately and we just need to keep that going.
“The lads are desperate to do well away from home. I think, even though the result wasn’t good at the weekend [against Watford], the performance was a bit better than it has been away from home lately.
"So, hopefully, we can improve again. We know it is going to be a tough game, we know what to expect from Burnley. Hopefully we can go there, impose our game on them and get the three points.”
Keane was a pivotal figure in Burnley comfortably surviving their first campaign back in the Premier League last season.
He started and finished all but the final three matches and won the club’s player-of-the-year prize as Sean Dyche’s side pieced together a terrific season, especially on their own Turf Moor patch, where Burnley won 10 and drew three of their 19 matches, conceding only 20 goals.
Four-cap England international Keane acknowledges, then, that Dyche’s men – who have proved an equally obdurate bunch in shipping only 25 goals in 28 games this term – will present a formidable test for the Blues this weekend.
“The fans get behind them and they really go for it there,” said Keane. “We know what to expect, they will get in our faces and make it difficult for us.
“It is going to be a battle, it is going to be a freezing cold and probably windy day at Turf Moor. But we will relish the challenge.
“I really enjoy those types of games and, hopefully, we can get on top of them and our quality can shine through.”
Keane joined Burnley from Manchester United, initially on loan, in September 2014. He previously had temporary spells with Leicester City, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers, but concedes he did not hesitate to commit permanently to the Clarets midway through the 2014/15 campaign.
He played 44 Championship games the following season as Burnley sealed their top-flight return as champions – and credits Dyche with overseeing his development into an international-pedigree defender.
Now making further strides on Allardyce's watch, he will be charged with combating Burnley’s forceful frontline on Saturday – with durable pair Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes embroiled in a fight for the hosts’ striking role with fit-again Chris Wood, the powerful centre-forward brought in from Leeds United early in the campaign.
“It will be a physical game and I know what to expect,” added Keane. "They are not easy to play against, they will throw themselves everywhere – all over you. They will challenge in the air, but they have got quality as well.
"I do not think they get the credit they deserve for being good footballers. They are good players and we have to be wary of them.
“I hope I get a good reception [from the Burnley supporters]. You never know what to expect but I feel like I have a good relationship with all the fans, and it would be nice.
“I am excited, when the fixture list first came out it was the first one I looked for. I was at Burnley for three years and had a great time there.”