Michael Keane says the significant progress made by Everton under Marco Silva is fuelling the Blues’ belief that they can cause Manchester City “a lot of problems” on Saturday.
Everton would jump a place to sixth in the Premier League table with victory at the Etihad Stadium – and also become only the second side in more than two years to claim three points from a visit to City’s home ground.
Centre-back Keane is drawing significant optimism from his team’s performances at some of English football’s traditional strongholds this term.
Everton drew at Chelsea – where City suffered a first league defeat of the campaign last week – and have matched Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool blow for blow, without achieving the positive results their efforts warranted in those fixtures.
“We will go to City with the belief we can cause them a lot of problems,” said Keane. "We have to believe we can win.
“There has been a lot of progress here this season, which is showing in the way we are playing – and [in particular] the way we are going to the top teams and playing.
“We haven’t got the results we've deserved at those places.
“But if you compare us to last season, we are completely different. The manager has brought in brilliant players, the squad is a lot deeper and we are ready to compete at the top end of the table.
“We just need to get over that hurdle of becoming one of the top-six sides and I think we will really kick on when we achieve that.”
Keane has established himself as a pillar of Everton’s back four this season and won a recall to the England squad in November following 13 months out of the international picture, which included the summer World Cup in Russia.
The defender is in a five-way fight for two starting spots at his Club, with fellow centre-halves Yerry Mina, Kurt Zouma, Phil Jagielka and Mason Holgate all vying for first-team football.
It is a further measure of Keane’s consistently excellent form, then, that he has started 13 of his side’s 16 top-flight games – two of those he missed were the consequence of the hairline skull fracture he suffered in a match against Bournemouth back in August.
“At the start of last season I felt I was in prime position to go to the World Cup and perhaps be one of those playing,” said Keane.
“It was hard for me [to miss out on the squad]. But I had a good break and came back with the attitude that I’d just joined the Club.
“It was a fresh start and a new manager. I worked really hard in pre-season and training is good, it has changed a lot and I feel much fitter and sharper than I did last year.
"The manager likes to play from the back. We work on patterns of play, starting from goal kicks.
"If I get the ball, we all know where the midfielders and full-backs will be. And where the strikers will run, because they will stretch the opposition to create space.
"We work our way up the pitch through the thirds and are very organised defensively.
“And playing well breeds confidence."
Silva was appointed Everton manager in May and in a short period of time has gone a long way towards implementing his preferred, expansive style of football.
The Blues have won five and drawn three of their past 10 Premier League games to sit two points behind Manchester United in sixth.
And Keane insists victory over a top-four contender would represent another big stride forward for his side.
“We have a chance of getting in the top six,” added Keane.
“We have dropped out but are not far away. When we have played the teams above us, we have not felt they were better than us.
“We need to take that step and beat one of these teams, doing that would give us further belief to kick on.”