Lucas Digne is savouring the opportunity to redouble his defensive efforts following a reordering of priorities for the Everton left-back.
Frenchman Digne’s name has become a byword for swashbuckling full-back play since his arrival at Everton in summer 2018.
The 28-year-old was ordinarily given carte blanche to bomb over halfway and would routinely keep company with some of the Premier League’s elite playmakers for various attacking metrics.
Digne is still providing his customary silver service from Everton’s left flank – most recently, he sent in two fabulous deliveries against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
But the former Barcelona player is more circumspect over his forward raids following a change in tack under Rafa Benitez,.
“My chances to go forward depend more on the situation in the game than previously,” Digne told evertontv.
“The manager asked me to be more of a defender this season, to stay back a bit more and keep a better balance for the team.
“Then, sometimes, I can drive forwards, but only when it is right for the team.
“My first job is to defend, I am a left-back.
“If the manager asked me to defend 99 percent of the time, I would defend 99 percent of the time.
“If what you are being asked to do is for the good of the team, that is it, the end of the discussion. You do the job the manager wants.
“We want to compete high in the table and if I have to defend until the end of this season for us to reach that position – perfect.”
Digne is by no means abandoning his attacking instincts and the sight of the player charging upfield on the overlap remains familiar to Everton watchers.
He’s delivered the same number of crosses this term (60) as the metronomic Andros Townsend.
The player with 42 caps for world champions France is averaging six crosses per game, compared to 7.16 last term.
On the defensive front, Digne is making 2.4 tackles per match, an increase on last season’s 2.1.
Additionally, Digne has managed five blocks, one more than in the whole of 2020/21, and his 0.93 headed clearances per game last term has inched up to one every 90 minutes under Benitez.
Digne returned from a one-match layoff to help shutout Spurs on Sunday and lay to rest the ghost of defeat by Watford a fortnight earlier, when Everton conceded four times in a 15-minute period manager Benitez labelled inexplicable.
“Any clean sheet is for all the team,” said Digne. “We work together to defend and it begins with the players up front.
“I think we were a little bit unlucky in some games. But we have also conceded some goals because of our mistakes, which makes everything difficult.
“We want to be more consistent than in the past years and for that you have to take care of the details.
“The most important thing is to keep the same spirit – to work hard all week like we are doing – then put our quality on the pitch.
“We know what we do in the matches will speak for us at the end of the season.”
Digne’s senior status was underlined this term when Benitez appointed the player captain for four games that regular skipper Seamus Coleman missed with injury.
He’d previously done the job in similar circumstances and is perfectly content to remain deputy to his fellow full-back.
“I know my job and know my position in the changing room,” added Digne, currently away with his national side for World Cup qualifying games against Kazakhstan and Finland.
“I am the second captain. The real captain is Seamus, on and off the pitch.
“It doesn’t change anything for me whether I wear the armband or not. On the pitch my job is the same, to give my best for the team.
“But when I am asked, I am very proud to captain Everton. It is a big responsibility and I am happy to accept it.”