Toffee Talk

Football: After tightening up, Everton must do more with the ball

As a fixture to get excited about and motivated to do our best as we step out into 2018, we could barely have asked for anything more challenging than Manchester United at Goodison Park.

But that's the beauty of this Premier League, you get what you can when you can and you prepare for every game as well as you possibly can. This is also another opportunity to see how far we have come over the space of the last four to five weeks.

The main thing we have done so far is transform the team into a very good defensive unit. When I joined the club at the end of November, it was crying out for some defensive stability so we worked on tightening things up at the back, which has given us a base to get results.

Through being brave in our defending and by remaining resilient, we are building a strong and solid foundation. What we want to do in tandem with that is improve the quality of our play in possession and part of that is being able to call on players who have been out injured and through illness and, hopefully, a few of them are on their way back if they're not back already.

I'm looking forward to various players coming back because we will get better when the pool we can select from is bigger. We've got one part right, that's clear. We've just got to address the other part now as well.

In that regard, having Yannick Bolasie come back into the side at West Brom on Boxing Day was really welcome. Yannick has had to overcome a major, perhaps career-threatening injury and, while we didn't really want to have to play him from the start against West Brom (lack of numbers and experience forcing our hand), it was great to get him out on the pitch. Great for him, too.

If there's another team in the Premier League that's been as reliant as us on young players aged 23 and under, I don't know it. We've fielded three, four, or five of them on a regular basis and that's tough on them, especially in a campaign in which we have played 33 games already.

There's a spirit in our squad and collective character that will help greatly as we continue to build and move forward in 2018. That spirit and character are also evident off the pitch too. When I joined Everton, I knew this was a special club, but now I am really starting to understand why that is the case.

They're gaining valuable experience, of course, and they've performed well but we need that experience and know-how which the likes of Bolasie and others will be able to provide.

I thought our commitment, effort, defensive diligence and organisation against a formidably talented Chelsea front five - never mind front three - was outstanding in our previous home game (0-0) at Goodison.

Perhaps we rode our luck at times but fortune favours the brave and we rolled our sleeves up and set down a marker and that refusal to submit in any way against the champions was rewarded with another terrific point. We will need something similar against Manchester United.

There's a spirit in our squad and collective character that will help greatly as we continue to build and move forward in 2018.

That spirit and character are also evident off the pitch too. When I joined Everton, I knew this was a special club, but now I am really starting to understand why that is the case.

The community work at every football club is vitally important and every football club view it as massively serious, none more so than Everton. I got to see for myself what great work we do in the local community when I visited the North Liverpool Foodbank just before Christmas.

The three areas surrounding Goodison Park - County, Kirkdale and Anfield - are some of the poorest in Europe, with up to 42 per cent of families living under the Living Wage Foundation's poverty line.

Determined to help those most in need, Everton and Liverpool supporters' groups joined forces with North Liverpool Foodbank, Anfield Breckside Community Centre, Unite in the Community and the Trussel Trust to launch a campaign called Fans Supporting Foodbanks, which provides donations so that more than 250 people can receive emergency food parcels each week.

It's that kind of work which embodies who we are as Evertonians, and makes me all the more determined to bring success to this great club in 2018.

•Toffee Talk is an exclusive column by English Premier League club Everton for The Straits Times that gives a more intimate look inside Goodison Park.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'After tightening up, Everton must do more with the ball'. Print Edition | Subscribe