Carlo Ancelotti says Everton’s position in the Premier League’s top six is founded on his team’s renewed defensive robustness – with the manager identifying flawless Michael Keane as a key figure.
Everton are only five points behind leaders Manchester United – with a game in hand – following a run of five wins in six matches.
The most recent success came at Wolves, where centre-back Keane headed a second-half winner, capping a proficient team display after Ancelotti compensated for the absence of premium forwards Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison with a revised formation.
Lucas Digne played on the left of midfield – and supplied his fifth assist this term for Everton's opening goal – while James Rodriguez was paired with Gylfi Sigurdsson up front.
Everton have conceded only four goals in their past seven Premier League games, claiming 16 points to maintain a challenge for European football.
“Michael this season is really good, really consistent, he never made a mistake,” Ancelotti told evertontv.
“Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey have been very good and Yerry Mina played a top match [at Wolves].
“Defensively we have been really strong, when we have this kind of defensive consistency there are a lot of possibilities to win games.
“Against Wolves, we were, as usual, defensively really solid.
“It is important players can be adaptable.
“Lucas Digne is not used to that position but he played for the team and when you play for the team your job is done.
“Sometimes, you have to sacrifice in a different position, you cannot always play where you want.
“The positions of Gylfi and James were good and we had better possession.
"We used a different strategy, with fewer crosses and more attacking from the flanks and the players followed the plan perfectly."
Everton turn their gaze to FA Cup football this weekend, with Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park for a fourth-round tie on Sunday.
Ancelotti’s side will pick up their league campaign with games against Leicester City and Newcastle United before the end of the month.
Everton’s lone Premier League setback in the past six weeks came with the New Year’s Day defeat by West Ham United – the only game England central defender Keane has missed this term.
Ancelotti duly urged Everton to recover the point they lost late in that match at the first time of asking.
The team responded to their manager’s call against Wolves and noisily celebrated a job well done at the final whistle.
“The players were really happy because we knew it was an important game,” said Ancelotti.
“After the defeat against West Ham, we wanted to stay at the top of the table.
“We played the game we planned at Wolves, staying safe at the back, not allowing the counter-attack and trying to attack the flanks, as we did perfectly for the first goal [when Digne crept forwards to cross for Alex Iwobi to score].
“The team know we are having a good season, the atmosphere is good and we want to keep this.
“It is important for everyone to have this kind of environment when we train.
“I am really pleased because this team has character, maybe we are not always able to play fantastic football but we are always there with a strong spirit and attitude.”