Everton Under-23s are in Premier League Cup action against Plymouth Argyle at Southport FC on Sunday (2pm). Cup holders Everton were edged out 2-1 in their opening Group C clash at Fulham and will be aiming to get back on track against the Pilgrims, who kicked off their group campaign with a 1-1 draw against Watford.
Ahead of the match we caught up with Toffees midfielder Alex Denny. He discusses training ground intensity, 'inspiring' boss David Unsworth and learning from assistant manager John Ebbrell...
Alex, there is a lot of competition for places in this Everton Under-23s squad. How much does that help to drive the players on?
A lot. The squad is very similar to last season’s, which won the Premier League 2 title, so that tells you how strong it is.
Everybody wants to get a place in the side and, in training every day, you have to be on it.
When you do get a chance, you know you have to give your best and take your opportunity.
How would you describe the culture manager David Unsworth has created within the group?
He is an inspiring manager.
Training is intense and there are no easy days. It’s always going to be like that working with a manager like Unsy and the rest of the coaching staff.
You’ve got to go out and give everything. If you don’t, you know someone else will be giving everything and they will overtake you.
If we play any small-sided games, there will be full-on tackles. It’s competitive and that helps us when we go into matches.
In games, the boss wants us to be combative, win our battles and to attack and score goals
As a central midfield player, how beneficial is it to have John Ebbrell – who played more than 250 matches for Everton in that position – as assistant manager?
It’s brilliant. John has been great with me for the past three years.
He’s played at the top level and he passes his experience of playing in central midfield onto all the lads.
He puts on extra sessions for the midfield group after training.
We work on passing, receiving the ball and also the defensive side of playing in midfield – pressing and positional aspects.
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HOT SEAT: ALEX DENNY
In the coaching group, you have David Unsworth, John Ebbrell, Franny Jeffers and Alan Kelly – why do you think they work so well together?
I think it’s because they have played at a very high level.
They have got different areas of expertise, too, because they have played in different positions during their careers.
The mix works really well.
You see central midfield as your best position, but you have also excelled at right-back. Is that versatility one of your key attributes?
Definitely. I see myself as a midfielder but, if there is a space at right-back or in another position, I am happy to take it.
Looking ahead, too, it isn’t easy to break into a first team. So, to have a couple of strings to your bow can only be a positive.
Your fitness levels are particularly impressive. Is having that seemingly boundless energy important both in midfield and at full-back?
Without a doubt. The modern-day full-back has got to be able to get up and down the pitch.
And, in central midfield, you’ve got to be able to run throughout the game whether that be pressing, getting back into our shape or showing for the ball.
Fitness is definitely a strength of mine.
A huge emphasis is put on fitness work during pre-season. Do you actually enjoy those gruelling sessions?
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I enjoy it! I definitely understand the benefit of it, though.
You’ve seen over the past few seasons, we finish games strongly.
That’s because of the way we train and how hard we work during pre-season. It’s helped us win two titles in the past three seasons.
What are your goals for the remainder of the campaign?
I’m going to keep training as hard as I can, and trying my best in every session and in every game.
I want to play as many matches as I can and help the team have another successful season. We want to climb up the league table and have a good run in the Premier League Cup.