Michael Keane says Marco Silva has placed an emphasis on developing a solid defensive base at Everton as the centre-back revealed his confidence the Blues backline will continue to improve under the Portuguese’s tutelage.
Keane has been in commanding form this season and has played a key role as the Toffees have won four and drawn one of their past six Premier League matches.
No Everton player has made more clearances than the 25-year-old this term, while his crisp, accurate passing has helped the Blues build attacks from the back.
His desire to get on the ball, meanwhile, is highlighted by the fact only livewire midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye has made more passes in the Everton side.
Last time out for the Toffees, Keane was part of a resolute back four that helped Everton become the first away side to shut out Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this term.
The defender, who moved to Goodison Park from Burnley in the summer of 2017, explained boss Silva is meticulous in his work on the training pitch, as he strives to shape a team capable of recording clean sheets against any team in the country - as well as playing attacking, ambitious football.
“The management make it clear – any good team has a solid defensive base,” he told evertonfc.com. “You can’t go out hoping to score four goals and hope you might only concede three.
“It takes time to get used to a different way of playing and a different way of defending.
“We have got used to that here and it is working well.
“We feel like we are progressing, playing good football and getting good results.
“For myself, I just have to keep coming in and thinking about the next day - working hard in training and seeing what I can improve. Then, game by game, making sure I am fully prepared and ready to give my best - like I have so far.”
Keane says the fact Everton boast one of the Premier League’s standout goalkeepers gives the Blues backline further cause for confidence.
As well as Jordan Pickford’s composure, lightning-quick reactions and pinpoint distribution, Keane highlights the England stopper’s organisational skills as a important attribute.
“It is what you want as a centre-half,” he explains. “You want your keeper shouting and screaming at you telling you where the striker is and what to do – whether to pass back to him or get rid of the ball.
“It helps massively, we try to communicate a lot, especially as defenders. It is a massive part of the pitch where you have to stick together and know where your opponents are.
“Jordan has been doing that very well.”
Keane has been on international duty with World Cup hero Pickford over the past week, after his consistently excellent Everton displays saw him rewarded with a recall to the England squad.
The Stockport-born defender won his fifth senior cap as England beat USA 3-0 at Wembley last Thursday – it was his first international appearance since October 2017.
Keane says there is a positive atmosphere in the Three Lions camp and revealed his optimism over what Gareth Southgate’s gifted young squad can achieve.
And having watched from afar as England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer, Keane declared his intent to cement a place in the manager’s plans – and experience the thrill of going deep in a major tournament for his country.
“I watched all the England games during the World Cup and quite a few of the others,” he said. “I was away with my family, but we got to watch games and had them on in our villa.
“And when you come back to England, you cannot escape it. It was great to see how the country gets behind you when you do well for England.
“It will stick in my head, that. If I do get to a tournament in the future, I know what it can be like at home and how much the fans get behind you.
“I was disappointed not to be there, but I was looking at the positives, seeing how much it united the country and how much the fans got behind the team.
“It hasn’t always been the case because we haven’t given them something to cheer for a long time.
“The team is going to good places and in the next few years, hopefully, we will have something big to celebrate.”
Keane believes the strong team spirit among the England players can help drive them towards success. He added the vibrant environment cultivated by boss Southgate helped him to swiftly settle in to the squad upon his recall.
“Everyone is really happy to be there, loving playing for England, loving meeting up with each other and having a laugh with each other,” he said.
“I think the team spirit is really good. That is not easy to generate in a national side because you don’t spend that much time together.
“The World Cup would have helped them bond but even before that the spirit was very good and that was down to the atmosphere the manager has created.
“The youth he has given the opportunity to, everyone is buzzing to be there and realises what an opportunity it is to play for your country.
“I felt like I slotted straight back in. I had been in seven or eight camps.
“It had been a year [since my last game] but it felt like I’d never been away – I went back in and knew everything that was going on and how things worked, so I was very comfortable.”