Phil Jagielka is tipping Michael Keane to channel his growing confidence into becoming a “boss at the back” for Everton.
Captain Jagielka partnered Keane in the middle of defence as the Toffees overcame a physical Stoke City and treacherous weather conditions to claim three points from their trip to the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
The duo also formed a rock-solid partnership in the previous week’s 2-0 Goodison Park success over Brighton & Hove Albion.
Moreover, Everton have won three and drawn one of the five matches Keane and Jagielka have started together since Sam Allardyce was appointed boss in November. They have recorded two clean sheets and conceded just four goals in those games.
The return of the experienced Jagielka to marshal the Toffees' rearguard following a four-match injury absence also coincided with Everton chalking up those successive victories prior to the current international break.
“I have always tried to talk as much as I can,” said Jagielka. “We have had a load of talented lads over the past couple of years but some have been quite quiet.
“I do not think they realise how much talking or passing on of information can help them and their teammates.
“With Michael [Keane], he is quite a quiet lad and I have openly said, ‘Shout at me, shout at someone else, no-one is taking anything personally, we need to know where everyone is’, and I think that is something he has in him.
“At the start of his career here we had a few difficult periods so it was probably natural go into your shell a little bit.
“But I am encouraging him to be himself and be a boss at the back – whether you are a loud person on or off the pitch, when you are on the pitch you need to pass on information.
“It is getting that way and we have had some lively discussions on the pitch which is brilliant. That is testament to him. It is how it used to be with Tim Howard and now with Seamus Coleman.
“It is healthy. It is a case of you wanting to find a solution as soon as possible.”
Keane’s authoritative display against Brighton was underlined by the fact he contested 10 aerial duels in the match – the third highest number of any defender in the Premier League that weekend.
He carried that commanding form into the weekend’s trip to Stoke, where the 25-year-old's polished performance was significant in Everton coming away with a 2-1 victory.
Keane emerged as the winner from a string of individual battles with the hosts’ towering striker, Peter Crouch, and was cleverly positioned to deal with a number of crosses into the Blues’ box.
The defender, signed from Burnley last summer, was also integral to Everton's efforts to take the game to Stoke, with Keane and Jagielka playing 22 passes between them in their opponents’ half of the pitch. The England international duo boasted their side’s second and third most successful passing rates, behind only the razor-sharp Idrissa Gana Gueye.
And Jagielka – who initially filled a variety of positions following his move to Everton from Sheffield United more than a decade ago, before establishing himself in the heart of the Blues’ back four – believes Keane has laid the foundations for a personally strong finish to the campaign.
“I probably had six months where I did not play much [after joining] and Leighton Baines was similar,” said Jagielka. “The good thing about us back then [summer 2007] was that it was a settled team.
“There were only four signings – me, Bainesy, Steven Pienaar and Yakubu – whereas this season there have been a lot of new arrivals.
“Times have changed and it is a little bit different but not having too many changes in the team does help people settle in and, hopefully, that will be the case until the end of the season.
“You can see Michael’s confidence is coming back, so these games will put him in good stead going forward.
“The important thing as defenders is to help each other out. We will make mistakes but you have three or four lads around you who want to help you get out of the situation.
“We feel we have got that at the moment. There are other lads who have done really well, too, in Cuco Martina and Jonjoe Kenny. We have Mason Holgate and Ashley Williams, while Ramiro Funes Mori is fit again. The competition for places in the back four is high and that will spur us on even more.”