Kurt Zouma says manager Marco Silva’s clearly defined strategy aided his seamless return into Everton’s back four against Newcastle United on Wednesday night.
France international Zouma had his run of 10 successive appearances halted when he was ruled out of Everton’s fixture with parent club Chelsea last month.
Yerry Mina stepped in to make an imperious debut and retained his position alongside Michael Keane for games against Cardiff City and Liverpool.
The close proximity of Everton’s clash with Newcastle to Sunday’s Merseyside derby persuaded Silva to inject fresh legs into his starting XI. Zouma was one of three players brought back into the side for his first start since the Goodison victory over Brighton & Hove Albion four-and-a-half weeks ago.
He paired up with Mina for the first time, while Keane, excellent against Liverpool 72 hours earlier, was included among Everton’s substitutes.
“It can be difficult when you come back after not playing because need to find your breath and go again,” Zouma told evertontv.
“But with this team and manager, it is easy to play, you know what you have to do, so it is no problem.
“The manager is working with every player, all the time. Everybody is involved and we are all ready for any chance to play.
“My partnership with Yerry felt good… like with the others: Michael, Mason Holgate and the skip [Phil Jagielka]. They are all good players and good defenders.”
Everton finished all-square with Newcastle after Richarlison struck to cancel out Salomon Rondon’s 19th-minute goal.
The point eased Silva’s team back into the Premier League’s top six ahead of Monday’s home meeting with Watford.
Zouma’s feelings post-match chimed with those of his manager and teammates who unanimously rued the fact Everton did not complete a turnaround following Richarlison’s leveller.
The 24-year-old was nevertheless encouraged by the manner in which his side controlled large swathes of the action – and ultimately ensured they at least stretched their unbeaten Goodison run to a fifth match.
Zouma’s own display was typically assured. His strength and speed across the ground helped smother the influence of Newcastle’s more creative performers.
Zouma’s distribution, meanwhile, was nigh on flawless. He completed 72 of 75 passes – a success rate of 96 per cent, the highest of any player on the pitch – with 27 of those accurate passes struck in Newcastle’s half of the pitch. Zouma found his mark with 10 of 11 long balls, too.
And the two-times Premier League winner insists he is relishing the challenge of trying to retain his starting spot in the face of fierce competition, with five men vying for two places.
“Competition is good and makes players even better,” added Zouma, who was joined in the team against Newcastle by recalled forward duo Ademola Lookman and Cenk Tosun.
“It was good with Yerry – but Michael has been doing a very good job. We can all rotate and there is no problem with that.
“We need to keep training hard and working to win games.
“We were very disappointed [to not beat Newcastle] and we could have won the game. We created chances against a team that had a lot of players at the back, they were compact and wanted to get the draw.
“We could be more patient, I think, move the ball from one side to the other. We tried to score but couldn’t. We scored only one. But at least we came back into the game after conceding the first goal and got the point.”