Frank Lampard says Everton established a defensive template when recording a first clean sheet in 13 matches against Leeds United at Goodison Park on Saturday.
The hosts’ bold attacking football inevitably garnered the majority of attention on an afternoon when Everton aimed 21 shots, directing 10 on target.
But Lampard’s side were similarly accomplished at the other end of the field, frustrating Marcelo Bielsa’s usually devil-may-care Leeds, who didn’t muster an attempt on target.
Everton were missing Ben Godfrey, Yerry Mina and Vitalii Mykolenko, who would all have been expected to start in the backline. But Jonjoe Kenny stepped in to excel at left-back, while Seamus Coleman and Michael Keane both scored to cap immaculate individual displays.
Asked if he derived as much pleasure from shutting out Leeds as his team’s offensive play, manager Lampard told evertontv: “Without a doubt, clean sheets or conceding can sometimes be looked on as something for defenders and the goalkeeper but it is a team thing; Can we keep our opponents far away from our goal and win the ball high up the pitch?
“Yes, we certainly did that.
“There will always be moments when you have to defend your box – and the lads dealt really well with anything that came in there.
“It is a template we need to take forward.
“If you are keeping clean sheets, you have a great chance in games, especially with what we have going forwards.
“I love Jonioe’s attitude in training every day… he loves Everton and always wants to train and do better. Any session and any drill you do, he wants to give everything.
“And he is a quality player, [good with] both feet and technically very good for a defender.
“He will give you everything, positionally he was great, in terms of holding his position, then jumping out and making tackles at the right time.
“Jonjoe is perfect for any game – but especially when we needed discipline and effort and toughness, and he showed those things. I was really pleased with him.”
Defender Kenny’s start against Leeds was his first under the new manager and the same was true for Alex Iwobi, who made five key passes and three tackles and tried four shots in a display characterised by focus and industry.
There was a full-debut, too, for Donny van de Beek, the Holland international midfielder signed on loan from Manchester United last month.
Addressing the efforts of Iwobi and Van de Beek in order, Lampard said: “It was hard to pick a man of the match out of those 11 players but, for me, it was Alex.
“The reason was the work ethic he showed, his fitness throughout the game, the way he picked up the positions we wanted off the ball and kept wanting to receive the ball and drive and play.
“He played because he trained so well and that is something I stand behind strongly as a coach.
“Sometimes you pick a team and people outside don’t understand why you pick a player.
“I understand that, too.
“But when someone trains as well as he has [he deserves to play]. All I want is for Alex to have belief and feel the talent he has – I am not sure I expected that 90 minutes of work-rate. He hadn’t played for me... and, wow, I thought he was outstanding.
“I was really happy with Donny, playing in a midfield two against Leeds is tough because of their movement and rotation of bodies.
“Him and Allan were fantastic.
“Donny on the ball gives us a sense of calm and intelligence and rhythm – and he is going to get better and better.
“He has been a dream to work with in the short time he’s been here.”
The positivity of Everton’s play against Leeds was perfectly illustrated by right-back Coleman opening the scoring with a close-range diving header.
Everton have seven different scorers under Lampard, four of them defenders, and half of the eight goals scored were the products of dead-ball deliveries.
First-Team Coach Paul Clement, insists Lampard, deserves recognition for Everton’s proficiency at set-pieces, which extends to tightening defensively in similar scenarios.
“Paul is massively experienced, he is diligent and talented and has spent a lot of time with the players,” added Lampard.
“Then you need the players to engage and deliver well and make the movements we want.”
On Coleman steaming forwards to score his first goal since May 2019, Lampard added: “We need to be compact, so you need good coverage of the pitch. If the full-backs are joining in the attack, someone else is trying to balance that off.
“We worked a lot on that, you can’t be open – and I loved the way the boys took that on board.
“Atmosphere and spirit are key.
“There is a talent in the squad they have to believe in.
“If you can get that right through the week and bounce back from tough moments, that is key in this Premier League
“And that is the players, they did it. They were at it in the dressing room – I could feel it before the game and they absolutely delivered on the pitch.”