Michael Keane has been getting “better and better”, says Sam Allardyce, with the Blues boss pinpointing confidence as key to the defender's recent form.
The Everton centre-back is preparing to face his former club Burnley on Saturday, having cemented a place in the side in recent weeks. Keane has started eight of the Toffees' 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.
With Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala unlikely to see further action this season because of a knee injury and fellow left-footed defender Ramiro Funes Mori still working his way back to match fitness after being out since last March, having also injured his knee, Keane’s form has been a welcome boost for Allardyce, particularly with how settled the former Manchester United man has looked playing as the left centre-back.
“Since he has been in [the team] he has been getting better and better,” said the Blues boss. “He is getting his confidence back.
“One thing we have found with Michael is he is very comfortable playing down the left. He is happy playing with his left foot. Craig Shakespeare told us that when he was on loan at Leicester that was where he played. That has been a help.
“Michael’s confidence is coming back. The styles of play are different between Everton and Burnley. They are a bit more compact, while we are expected to be a bit more expansive, particularly at home. That does leave some defenders that little bit more open and you have to learn to deal with that.
“I remember way back speaking to Brian Kidd at Manchester United and he was saying that if you wanted to be a defender there then you have to know how to defend one-on-one. Most other clubs would leave another defender to cover.
“When you get a team that opens themselves up a little bit more, with full-backs like Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman who like to get forward, then your central defenders do become a bit more exposed. They have to learn to deal with that and become better at it. I see that with him (Keane).”
Everton’s defence has been boosted by the news that both Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman will both travel to Turf Moor on Saturday. With Baines out with a calf injury since 26 November, it is the first time Allardyce has had the full-backs both available since he took charge at the start of December.
He hopes the return of the influential duo can help return the Blues to the resolute defence that saw him become the first Toffees manager to go unbeaten in their first seven games in charge, conceding just two goals during that period.
“The big factor for us is the resilience we showed when not playing that well but still acquiring a clean sheet,” Allardyce added. “I watched us against Chelsea at home [in December], thinking the lads had done a fantastic job.
"But it’s not always going to work that - sitting and defending for 90 minutes to get a 0-0 – you have got to do more than that. You have got to expand on that but when we have tried to, we have not got the result.
“But in the Leicester and Palace games, [the goals we conceded at home] was penalties that we gave away. On that basis, we were reasonably close to what we needed to do."