After a challenging couple of weeks which saw us face some of the leading contenders for the Premier League title, Wednesday night’s 3-0 Carabao Cup victory over my former club Sunderland provided some home comfort ahead of this weekend’s league game with Bournemouth at Goodison Park.
Wednesday’s cup tie was the first of four successive home games so to score three goals and keep a clean sheet was a welcome confidence boost for the whole squad.
When the fixtures came out in the summer, we knew it was always going to be a tough first few games in our Premier League season.
We then took four points from the first two matches (we beat Stoke 1-0 on the opening day and drew 1-1 at Manchester City), which we were pleased with. We could even have won at City, but on the night they kept coming at us and eventually grabbed an equaliser. Before the game, though, if you had offered us a draw away at the Etihad, it would have been considered a very good point. And in light of City’s recent results, it now looks an even better point.
After that, we then had a little dip in form, but we are now in the middle of a sequence of home matches at Goodison Park and we are approaching them with the belief that we can put together a run of wins, especially coming off the back of a positive result on Wednesday night.
I have played at Goodison a few times now and I already believe I have built up a strong relationship with our supporters. I have found Everton to be like Sunderland, from the point of view that it is a family-orientated club with a huge fanbase and a passionate following. I think I have already won the fans over but now I need to keep performing and making important saves at the right times, to keep showing people what I can do.
In terms of this weekend and the test we face, Eddie Howe has put together a hard-working Bournemouth side and they will come to Goodison with a game plan, so we will have to be on our toes and ready for the challenge. I know their striker Jermain Defoe from my Sunderland days and I am well aware of what he can produce. Jermain is a proven goalscorer and we will have to keep him quiet. He scored plenty past me in training last season but I am determined that will not be the case this weekend.
After Bournemouth, we then have a Europa League group match against Apollon Limassol, followed by another home Premier League match against Burnley. We have a great opportunity to build some real momentum now and show what we are capable of before going into the next international break.
I was called up to the England squad in the last break but unfortunately I had to withdraw due to a minor injury. To get my chance with England again, first I have to keep working hard on the training pitch, putting in performances for Everton and getting those clean sheets, then hopefully I will get the nod from Gareth Southgate.
The competition for the goalkeeping positions in the squad is really intense at the moment. Personally, I think Joe Hart is a great goalkeeper and someone I looked up to when I was younger with the pathway he took to get to where he has. I think he still deserves to keep the shirt and that is why the keepers below him – and hopefully I am one of them – have to keep pushing hard to be in a successful England team.
But, as I say, my main focus is performing well for Everton, then hopefully the rest will follow. It has been a whirlwind first couple of months – playing as many games as I have for a new club, being in a hotel for so long and then finally getting settled into my new house. It has been a huge change, but a really positive one. I have really enjoyed the start to my Goodison career and I plan to be here for a long time.
Jose Mourinho praised French winger Anthony Martial on Friday for his improved attitude and on-field performances in Manchester United’s strong start to the season.
The 21-year-old struggled to convince Mourinho during his first season in charge at Old Trafford but he has convincingly played his way back into the manager’s plans this term.
The Frenchman has scored four goals already – half of the total he claimed over the whole of last season – including a goal and man-of-the-match performance in the midweek League Cup victory over Championship side Burton Albion.
And Mourinho believes a major reason for the improvement has been Martial’s new attitude and approach to life at Old Trafford.
“I see a great improvement in the person, in the mood, in the face, in the body language,” he said at United’s Carrington training base. “If you just want one word — ‘happiness’. He’s a happy guy, he’s working extremely well.
“He starts matches, he tries to do well. He goes from the bench, even if it’s only for 10 minutes like in the last match at home, he tries to enjoy it and give something in his extra minutes.
“I’m very pleased with his attitude overall. Then it’s just easier to play well.”
Mourinho, whose side are joint top of the Premier League with Manchester City, also says he still has no idea when injured midfielder Paul Pogba will return to his line-up after a hamstring injury suffered in the Champions League win over Basel.
The United manager says he has not even asked medical staff when he will have Pogba back in contention, while some reports have suggested he may be out for 12 weeks.
“I have no idea,” said Mourinho. “But again it is a great opportunity for other players to play and I trust them all.
“So I’m not going to cry or be counting the days for Paul to be back. Not at all. When he’s back, he’ll come. Until then, I trust my people.”
United, who travel to Southampton on Saturday, have started the season strongly in the league, League Cup and Champions League.
Given the club has also this week announced record financial figures, including a record operating profit of £80.8 million ($109.14 million), Mourinho understandably believes the club has every right to enjoy the current wave of optimism sweeping Old Trafford.
“I don’t think it’s about a specific moment of winning a specific competition,” he said.
“I think it is something more global, where the club financially looks really strong, better than ever according to the numbers, where the football team is improving, not just in results but also in a certain style of play, where the connection between the players, the team, the fans looks stronger and stronger.
“Man United fans around the world have more reasons to smile than in the recent past, so I think it is about globality.”
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and West Brom’s Gareth Barry could both become record breakers in the latest round of Premier League fixtures.
Here, Press Association Sport details some of the talking points prior to the top flight contests taking place between Saturday and Monday.
Aguero begins this round of fixtures just two goals shy of equalling Eric Brook’s record City haul of 177 so a repeat of last weekend’s hat-trick at Watford will ensure the Argentinian, who moved to England in 2011, makes club history.
The prospect of him doing so this weekend is enhanced by the fact Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, still without a league point or a goal in their five fixtures so far, are the visitors for free-scoring City.
One record has a chance to be broken on Saturday, another will almost certainly fall on Monday at Arsenal. That is when West Brom midfielder Barry is set to go past Ryan Giggs and make his 633rd Premier League appearance. The 36-year-old made his top-flight debut with Aston Villa in 1998 and will be expected to be a key figure in the team Tony Pulis deploys against the Gunners, who have previously tried to sign Barry.
Having scored 23 goals in seven games, United now travel to a Southampton side who have kept three clean sheets in their five league fixtures. And they have done so without including Virgil van Dijk in their line-up following a summer transfer saga which ended with him remaining at the club despite lodging a transfer request.
The Dutchman, brought on as a substitute last weekend against Crystal Palace, has not started a game since January but may be pivotal if Saints are to stop United’s in-form attack.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is pondering his defensive options at Leicester too. Dejan Lovren is unlikely to feature because of a back injury while Joel Matip is doubtful with a knock so Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez, who both started in the Carabao Cup against Leicester in midweek, could continue their centre-back partnership.
Klopp said in midweek he was “sick” at Liverpool’s defending and it is an issue they must resolve if they are to claim a first win in five.
The other top-flight manager on Merseyside has been similarly unimpressed with his team’s recent form. Prior to the mid-week cup win over Sunderland, Ronald Koeman had presided over four defeats in which the Toffees had failed to score and had conceded 12 times. Though they currently reside in the relegation zone, a run of league fixtures against Bournemouth, Burnley and Brighton should offer him hope they can propel themselves up the table.