When Marco Silva embarked on his carousel of interviews after Everton crushed Manchester United at Goodison Park in April, the people asking the questions all wanted to know the same thing.
Did beating United 4-0 represent the high watermark of Silva’s embryonic Goodison reign?
“It was one of our best performances,” he replied, every time.
Silva’s refusal to go overboard could be attributed in part to the manager’s hard wiring, which dictates he consistently demands more.
“We want to improve further,” says Silva.
“My aim, always, is to do things better and better and better.”
Silva gave those thoughts after his side came away from Crystal Palace frustrated to have drawn 0-0 following a mature and authoritative performance.
Everton bombarded the hosts’ goal at Selhurst Park, dominated the ball, struck the woodwork twice and recorded a seventh clean sheet in nine matches.
Silva reflects on a season which can be characterised by three distinct phases. Everton muscled into the top six back in November and won six and drew six of their opening 16 games.
The last 11 matches of 2018-19 yielded six victories and three draws, 18 goals scored and only seven conceded.
Between times Everton’s form dipped and that is a period Silva insists will serve as a valuable education process.
“In the last two months we returned to the levels we reached up until the beginning of December,” he said.
“There is a quality in our football which reflects the work we are doing on the training pitch every day.
“At the start of the season, the players were learning what we expected, understanding our philosophy.
“We provide the players with a lot of feedback, not overloading their minds but giving them key information to help them improve individually and understand their role in our model and idea.
“When I came I sensed the players needed to enjoy playing football again. It is what they love – but if you are feeling pressure or your confidence is not high, you are restricted on the pitch.
“I believed in their quality from the first day. It was clear to me and the initial task for me and my staff was to help them express that quality.
“If you do everything right, prepare properly, then you are closer to winning matches. And when you start to win, the players recapture their confidence and enjoyment.”
Everton rediscovered the winning habit following an extended break from action in February. They emerged from 17 days on the training ground to win 3-0 at Cardiff City, igniting an ongoing productive sequence which featured five unbeaten home games - Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Burnley all leaving Goodison without defeating Jordan Pickford in Everton’s goal.
For Silva, that period without games when he was able to work uninterrupted with his players was especially opportune, the chance to reinforce messages and introduce renewed clarity.
“It was essential to pass the right feedback to them, how we want to play and apply our strategy,” says Silva.
“The best place to analyse the players is on the training field and we study all the sessions.
“Then we speak to the players, collectively and individually.
“We take care with everything, giving the right feedback in the right moment.”
It's not just an upturn in results which Silva has overseen but player performances, too.
Centre-back Michael Keane was one of the squad who needed an injection of confidence prior to this campaign.
The 26-year-old’s debut season at Goodison following his summer 2017 transfer from Burnley was routinely disrupted by injuries which prevented him from hitting the heights.
Rejuvenated under Silva, Keane had a stellar season this time round, the player’s imperious form rewarded with an England recall after 12 months out of the international frame. Keane started both the Three Lions’ European Championship qualifying matches in March and netted his first England goal in Montenegro before being selected for the current Nations League tournament in Portugal.
“We see a different Michael Keane now from the one who started in pre-season,” says Silva.
“For anyone who perhaps doubted that Michael could be a strong player in our squad, well that is exactly what he is. His quality could never be in doubt and now he has the confidence to show it.
“You see it in how decisive he is on the field. He makes good decisions and has authority when he challenges for the ball.
“He wants to learn, also, and with his attitude and ability I believe he will improve even more.”
Everton are making good on Silva’s ambition for this season of “doing many things better”.
“We wanted to improve our points total, our way of playing, to be offensive and attack games and to tighten up defensively,” he explains.
Everton eclipsed their 49-point haul from 2017-18 with two games remaining. They recorded 14 clean sheets – four more than last term and fewer only than Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premier League.
“These are all things we set out to achieve and we know we could have done better in some moments,” says Silva.
“In the first season, the objective always must be to improve. There are many, many things to put in place when you come to a club and everything now is different from 10 months ago.
“It is my ambition for the future that Everton will play in European competition every season.
“The Premier League is so competitive and other teams want the same thing. But that has to be our main target.
"Also, I want our supporters to see us go to a Cup final and try to win. The players want it, too. Some of them have won trophies. It is a fabulous feeling, the best way for your work to be rewarded. We will do everything we can to give this feeling to Evertonians.”