Phil Jagielka says Everton’s management team have instigated a “positive turnaround” at the Club – and the captain wants the revitalised Blues to make life uncomfortable for Manchester City at a throbbing Goodison Park on Saturday evening.
Everton will be aiming for their third win on the bounce when they meet a City side that is two victories from claiming this season’s Premier League title.
The Toffees won 2-1 at Stoke City in the final match before the international break – seven days after beating Brighton & Hove Albion to maintain their productive run on home turf.
Manager Sam Allardyce has overseen five wins and two draws from his eight home matches in charge and lifted the Toffees from a position in the lower reaches of the table to within three points of Burnley in seventh.
“It is all about picking up points until the end of the season, getting momentum and confidence, and hopefully by the time next season starts the the manager will have things how he wants them," Jagielka told evertontv.
“The job for the new management team was to make sure we were nowhere near relegation trouble and that seems to be the case now. It is little baby steps and we would now like to get higher up the table.
“After the game at Stoke we were saying we need to be looking ahead of us now. We are not too far behind seventh and eighth and we want to put up a decent fight for those positions.
“Since the whole management team came in it has been a positive turnaround and things recently have been going okay.”
Everton’s back-to-back successes over Brighton and Stoke coincided with Jagielka returning to the middle of Everton’s defence following a four-game injury absence.
The 35-year-old has started six Premier League matches under Allardyce, winning three of them, drawing one and recording two clean sheets.
Jagielka also featured from the beginning when the Blues drew 1-1 at the Etihad Stadium back in August – the only time City have dropped points at home all season.
Pep Guardiola’s side have earned an abundance of plaudits for their stylish domination of the English top-flight this term and will have the title sewn up in early April if they beat Everton and Manchester United in their next two matches.
But Jagielka insists the memory of going toe-to-toe with City earlier in the campaign, combined with the confidence flowing through the side after successive wins, can make the Toffees formidable opponents for Guardiola’s men.
“They are clearly a great team – but we have a very good team as well,” said Jagielka. “I was a bit disappointed we did not get the win at the Etihad. They had the man sent off [Kyle Walker was red carded shortly before half-time when Everton led 1-0] which helped, because normally when you play against them it feels like they have an extra man.
“Their manager came to England and did not do as well as a lot of people maybe expected in his first season but he is having the last laugh now.
“He has created the team and instilled the work ethic and ideas he wants over a pretty short period of time and people are excited about watching this Manchester City side.
“But hopefully we can introduce them to a Goodison atmosphere and a team that is a bit more confident, that will play that extra pass, keep hold of the ball for longer and put them under a bit more pressure.”
Guardiola can choose between 21-goal Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, fresh from scoring the winner for Brazil against Germany in midweek, as the focal point of his attack.
And with the likes of Germany international winger Leroy Sane, Premier League player-of-the-year contender Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, who shone in England’s recent friendly matches against Holland and Italy, all in blistering form, too, Jagielka is braced for a hard afternoon’s work against a world-class forward line.
But the centre-back, capped 40 times by England, insists Everton will be intent on causing City plenty of problems, too.
The Toffees have scored 20 goals in their past 10 home matches and conceded only eight in that period.
And in Cenk Tosun they boast one of the division’s in-form strikers. The Turk, who became Allardyce’s first signing when he joined in January, has scored four goals in his past three games. In the same spell he has had eight shots, with seven of them directed on target.
“With the way City play and their movement, they try to drag you out of areas to create space for runners, so it is a case of trying to stay compact and dealing with the ball when it comes in your area," added Jagielka.
“But when we get the ball we need to make sure we do not give it straight back to them.
“We have to put them under pressure. Their defence would probably be considered their weakest link – but, even then, if you look at their defensive record it is second to none. It is the best in the division.
“If Cenk can get keep adding to his tally towards the end of the season then that will be great for us – and also for his confidence coming back for the next campaign.
“There is so much to play for… and a lot of positives in every aspect of the team and now it is about progressing in these last few games.
“The way Manchester City defend is by keeping hold of the ball. But there will be ways to get at them and we need to make sure we understand that – but be prepared for a really tough game.”