The West Ham victory has taken us into this international break with an understanding of what we have been doing well so far season. We are harder to beat and harder to score against – that’s a huge thing in football.
Can we be better on the ball? For sure, but from the West Ham game, we were able to produce passages of play, like for the goal, which showed we are playing through lines better.
We have got to understand as well that we have got new players in and that means it takes time to get fluidity to our game. Onana has hardly played as a number eight, Alex Iwobi has been playing in various roles, as we know, and Gana has been playing in a different league for a few years so there are parts of our game that will get better.
At the moment, though, we’re at the start of our process moving forward and the West Ham win gave us three important points, especially after we deserved more from our previous matches.
It’s been welcoming to see the defensive steel across the team, which has given us the second best defensive record in the Premier League. That’s down to the players: the one who were here last season and the ones who came in during the summer.
Everyone will look to Conor and Tarky but the players drive each other on in training. As a team, everyone is involved so it’s testament to the hard work across the squad. The reality is we’ve now set a standard which means whoever comes into the team has to deliver defensively and make us hard to beat. If you’re hard to beat in this league, you give yourself a chance and we’ve shown that so far this season. That’s something we just cannot lose.
James and Conor are top players. Conor’s currently away with the England squad, Tarky has been an England international. We brought them in with an understanding of the level of player but when you meet them the understanding of who they are in the dressing room and at the training ground is huge.
You see Alex talking about how they are like father figures in the group – they are, and they set the tone. It’s great for us and there are other players like Seamus and Keano and the boys who are injured. We are setting standards now that we have to maintain.
There has also been a noticeable improvement at our set-piece defending. Ashley Cole has focused a lot on that with the players and our analysis team. They give the squad the right messages and then the players have to have a desire, determination and organisation to not let teams score.
West Ham are one of the best teams at set pieces and we defended their 14 corners last week so I’m pleased for Ashley because he’s working hard on that side. We now want to be more clinical at the other end, score more goals, but we’re working very hard to do that.
Our new signings have helped make a difference to how we are playing. Gana brings quality and experience and a really nice manner. He’s another good lad to have around the training ground.
He loves the Club and wanted to come home and you’ve seen from his performances so far what he brings to the team. For me, he’s world-class but coming from France back to the Premier League after three years presents a lot of challenges – physicality, speed – so I think he’ll get even better for us. You saw the calmness and the sense of positioning off the ball against West Ham. The options and balance in my midfield are getting better now.
Neal got his first goal for the Club, too, and I think he’s already shown why we brought him to Everton. He’s got a really good work-ethic off the ball which is important for us and his goal was a fantastic finish. To control it quickly at pace, get his shot away as fast as he did shows he’s a goalscorer.
We need Dom fit but when you have Neal you know you have a proven Premier League striker. He’s fitted in really well with the group and you can rely on him to come in and play the way he did.
I’ve got nice options up front now and it’s given us the comfort of allowing Dom extra time to get fit during the international break because we are going to need him, too. We’ve got options in pretty much every position.
It’s early days, of course, but I think our fans appreciate the improvements we’ve made as a team. That’s down to hard work and our players.
There’s been a turnaround in players and, in reality, that’s something we had to look at. I’m thankful to the Board, the owner, the Chairman and Denise because they backed us in terms of who we wanted to sign.
The rest of our improvement is the work of the lads. There was a lot of tension last season, for obvious reasons, but we’ve settled that. We must never be complacent but we are working really hard and, at the moment, we look in a much better place for it.