We [Everton] head into this weekend’s match against Bournemouth seven games undefeated in the Premier League, which is never easy to achieve. We are keeping clean sheets again and our new manager, Sam Allardyce, has really helped in that respect.
We’ve gone back to basics since Sam arrived in November and I think you can see that on the pitch with the way we are performing. We know we can get better going forward and that’s something we are striving to do but having the base of keeping clean sheets is massively important. We have recorded six in our last eight games, conceding only two goals in that period.
In training we have worked in a back-four or back-five, defending wave after wave of attacks. We have paid attention to distances of where we want to be on the pitch and worked on covering each other. It’s things like that – if you do them little but often it makes a big difference. The manager has got us all working together as a unit and we know that defending starts from the front and through midfield as well.
I was recalled to the team against Chelsea – when we took a point in a hard-earned nil-nil draw – and hopefully that performance will give me that confidence to kick on. I did well in that match at Goodison and then played against West Brom on Boxing Day, when we kept another clean sheet.
The manager has been great and has spoken to me on several occasions to offer advice. He’s a likeable guy who is easy to talk to, and I feel any one of the lads could approach him if they wanted to ask a question.
Obviously, he has bags of experience, as do the staff he has brought in such as assistant manager Sammy Lee and first-team coach Craig Shakespeare. The atmosphere is great and the lads are really enjoying playing football again.
Another big factor behind our recent upturn in form has been Wayne Rooney’s performances. He’s scoring plenty of goals but it’s also his calmness on the ball – he is always looking to play forward and release those passes between the lines.
With all his experience, he is great to have around the place. He’s not someone who is going to force anything on you but, if you want to pick his brain, he’s more than happy to help.
We approach the new year with plenty of optimism. We need to keep working hard on the training ground and maintain that belief in what we are doing. That stems from results, so we want to continue grinding them out, winning matches and keep that undefeated run going.
We are all looking up now instead of down and, whilst we don’t want to look too far ahead, we still believe we have a chance of forcing our way into the battle for European places.
On Sunday at West Brom, the Arsenal manager will oversee his 811th Premier League fixture, surpassing the record previously held by Sir Alex Ferguson and at a time when the profession has never been so demanding.
The Frenchman was appointed to his role in 1996 and in the 21 years since has become one of football’s most respected figures.
He remains under pressure to deliver a top-four finish after years without Arsenal convincingly challenging for the Premier League title, but former Leeds and Aston Villa manager O’Leary believes he is the last of his breed.
“It’s remarkable, amazing, unbelievable,” the Irishman told Press Association Sport.
“To do 20-plus (seasons) as a manager: it’ll never happen again at Manchester United, Sir Alex was unique, and it’ll never happen at Arsenal, Arsene’s achievement there is unique.”
O’Leary, 59 and a title winner with Arsenal in his playing days, added: “He’s had a very understanding board you’d want to be working for. They’re not reactionary people, and that’s played a part in him achieving that success.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 29, 2017
“I came back with Leeds to Arsenal, and if somebody said, ‘He’ll still be manager of that club’, I’d have said, ‘No chance’. It’s amazing longevity, and at a big club like that. I thought playing was hard, but when you’re the manager of a big club, the demands that come with it: you don’t realise it until you manage.”
The second longest serving Premier League manager is Eddie Howe, who has been at Bournemouth for little over five years but is only in his third season in the English top flight.
“I don’t think it’ll ever happen again: the likes of Sir Alex and Arsene are a dying breed, and going to be a thing of the past,” Smith, 55, also a title winner with Arsenal, told Press Association Sport.
“Managers are getting sacked after four games in the Premier League, so patience has worn more than thin.
“To retain that work ethic and desire is amazing. Whatever you say about the rights and wrongs of him still being in the job, you can’t take away from that achievement.
“He’s taken more on his shoulders than Sir Alex did. Sir Alex delegated more, spent time overlooking the training ground rather than being down there. A succession of assistants slowly changed training, different voices, different methods. Whereas Arsene, he’s had Pat Rice and (Steve) Bouldy, but he likes to oversee everything: that’s extra pressure.”
Dixon, 53, was a regular in the team that won two doubles under the 68-year-old Frenchman, and he added: “The fact he’s reached that milestone is incredible. He must be immensely proud.
“That style of manager, the longevity: it’s different to managing a smaller club. When you’re at a big club you’re under scrutiny every single day, every single game, and sometimes every single training session. The wear and tear on managers in the game that long is immense.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Most of the plaudits during the Premier League leaders’ record 18-game winning streak have been shared among their formidable attacking players.
But centre-back Otamendi has also been vitally important, both defensively and by contributing to other aspects of play.
The Argentinian, who is arguably City’s most improved player this season, has proved a key component of the attacking build-up and has also weighed in with five goals in all competitions.
City manager Guardiola said: “We have a ‘Superman’ in the team, as Nico Otamendi helped us absolutely. Without Nico, it would not be possible, what we have done.
“Everyone speaks about players such as Raheem (Sterling), like David (Silva), like Kevin (De Bruyne), like Sergio (Aguero) – and they deserve it – but if I would like to point to a player who deserves full respect, for what they have done until now, it’s Nico. Nico has been amazing.
“He is a guy who, even with pain in the ankle, in the knee, in the back, always fights. He’s one the hugest competitors I’ve ever seen in my life. He was so important.”
Guardiola’s praise for Otamendi comes at a time when City are thought to be considering buying another centre-back in the January transfer window. Otamendi has missed just one Premier League match this season – through suspension – but John Stones and Vincent Kompany have both had injuries, leaving Eliaquim Mangala as the only cover.
But Guardiola said: “I don’t know what will happen. Maybe if we are in the position with Vincent and what happened to John Stones (we could buy), but we cannot forget Mangala has helped us a lot.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 29, 2017
“If I have to live for the rest of the season with these players, and with the young players, we are going to live with that.”
Virgil van Dijk was thought to be a potential target before it was announced this week he would be joining Liverpool from Southampton in a deal reportedly worth £75million.
In a week when Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has suggested City have paid extraordinary amounts for defenders, Guardiola insists there is nothing untoward in that fee.
He said: “Liverpool took an amazing player, Van Dijk is an exceptional central defender. That’s a price we’ll see (again) in the future. If he plays six or seven years at a high level it would be cheap.
Liverpool Football Club can confirm they have reached an agreement with Southampton for the transfer of Virgil van Dijk.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 27, 2017
“John Stones, when he came here, people said he was too expensive. Now he’s too cheap. It always depends on the value of what happens on the pitch.”
Guardiola is contracted until the end of next season but is expected to discuss a new deal in the summer. He has already shown some commitment to the area by purchasing a luxury apartment near Manchester city centre.
He said: “I bought an apartment because I have to live somewhere, and I’m happy to live in the city.
“It happened the same when I was a player at Roma, at Brescia, and in Munich. I prefer to live in the city and be with the people.”