Michael Keane says his consistently exceptional form for Carlo Ancelotti’s resurgent Everton is down to “taking more responsibility” as the defender enters his “prime” years.
Centre-back Keane has grown into a key figure for Ancelotti, starting 21 of 22 games in all competitions this season.
Everton conceded only three goals in Keane’s past six Premier League appearances and the former Manchester United player crowned his latest impeccable display with the winning goal at Wolverhampton Wanderers seven days ago.
Keane, capped 12 times by England, is set for his 129th appearances for the Club when Sheffield Wednesday visit Goodison Park for an FA Cup fourth round tie on Sunday.
He has scored half of his eight Everton goals this term and matured into the leader of a rock-solid backline.
“This has been my most consistent year for Everton and I feel I am playing my best football for the Club,” Keane told evertontv.
“I am taking more responsibility, as I get a bit older.
“I am one of the more experienced players in the team and getting towards my prime.
“It is the right time for me to be at my peak and playing my best.
“And my confidence is growing, by playing well you become more and more confident.
“I go onto the pitch every week feeling we won’t concede and like I can create on the ball.
“When you feel like that it makes everything much easier.
“I’ve been consistent since Carlo took over but, in terms of individual seasons, this is my most consistent, so far.
“I am really happy with how I’m playing and how the team is doing and long may it continue.
“But I am conscious we’re not even halfway through the season, so I have to keep going.”
Everton have recorded clean sheets in three of their past six Premier League matches and not conceded more than once in a league fixture since beating Fulham 3-2 nine games ago on 22 November.
The 19 points collected in that period have maintained a bid for European football.
Ancelotti’s side is sixth in the standings and will reach the midway point of their campaign following home games against Leicester City and Newcastle United next week.
The manager this week identified his team’s defensive reliability as instrumental in their rich form, singling out Keane for praise after a faultless campaign to this stage.
Keane, who turned 28 on the eve of the Wolves fixture, is currently part of a makeshift backline.
Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey have deputised in the full-back positions for the majority of the past six weeks, owing to injuries for Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman, who both featured at Wolves after regaining fitness.
“We definitely have to try to fight for the top four,” said Keane, who joined Everton from Burnley in the summer of 2017.
“We 100 per cent want to be in Europe – we are nearly halfway through the season and close to a Champions League spot, even with a few injuries and setbacks, so that shows we’re capable of it.
“It shows the quality in the squad.
“The players who haven’t been playing regularly have been brilliant when they’ve come in.
“Their attitude in training is excellent, so they are ready when their chances come.
“We know if anyone is out someone can come in and do the job just as well, which is a massive quality to have.
“We have to take it game by game, try to continue being consistent, and see where it takes us.”