Phil Jagielka says Morgan Schneiderlin’s recall to Everton’s midfield is just reward for the Frenchman’s exemplary attitude and “fantastic” form on the Blues’ training ground.
Schneiderlin partnered Idrissa Gana Gueye in Everton's engine room for Sunday’s Merseyside derby – five days after making his first Premier League start in 163 days when he starred in Everton’s 3-0 victory at Cardiff City.
The 29-year-old featured in 40 games for Everton last term – starting 34 times – and played 14 matches in 2016-17 after joining from Manchester United midway through that campaign.
Schneiderlin's start at the Cardiff City Stadium was his first in the Premier League since the clash against West Ham United on 16 September.
And captain Jagielka revealed the 15-cap international, who became a father for the first time back in October, remained a model of professionalism as he fought to regain his place in manager Marco Silva's team.
“Morgan has been fantastic in training and that is all you can ask for,” Jagielka told evertontv.
“He wasn’t sure if he’d get to play with others ahead of him but he kept his head down and at Cardiff he showed glimpses of what he was like when he first came.
“Confidence plays a big part in that and maybe he felt a bit freer against Cardiff – with the way he played, not only defensively, but going forward.
“I thought his passing was fantastic, so hats off to him and Gana in midfield.
“Morgs wants to play every game but so does every player, we all want to play football.
“He has become a father so maybe that’s kept his mind occupied! But you have to maintain your focus and do everything you normally would during the week to make sure you are ready when you are called on to perform.
“His first game back was an important one, too, we want to get our away form to where it was earlier in the season and it was a great result.”
The industrious Schneiderlin was on course to equal the 7.3km covered by teammate Gylfi Sigurdsson, the derby’s busiest player, before he made way for Andre Gomes with 14 minutes of the game remaining.
Employed primarily to cut off the supply line to Liverpool’s rapid forwards, Schneiderlin made two clearances, blocked two shots and completed one interception.
He struck 11 accurate passes in his opponents' half of the field to help Everton seize territorial advantage – after recording an 86.2 per cent accuracy rate from the 65 passes he hit against Cardiff, which included one to unlock the hosts and create the Blues’ opener.
Centre-back Jagielka, meanwhile, was included in manager Silva’s squad for the weekend’s contest after being restored to the side in south Wales following his own prolonged absence
And the 36-year-old is promising to continue fighting international trio Michael Keane, Kurt Zouma and Yerry Mina for a spot in the middle of Everton’s defence.
“That is all I can ever do,” added Jagielka, whose 10th-placed side travel to Newcastle United on Saturday seeking to reduce the six-point gap to Wolverhampton Wanderers in seventh.
“There is not much I can do about my age, it is what it is.
“As long as I feel I can do a job – and everyone around me seems pretty happy at the moment – I will keep going.
“I really enjoyed being involved at Cardiff. It was fantastic to get a clean sheet and the three points.
“I think confidence is growing all the time and we want to put together a run which will push us closer to where we are aiming to be in the table.”