Ronald Koeman has praised Everton’s resilient start to the season but admitted it may take a miraculous performance to keep another clean sheet at Manchester City on Monday.
Everton have yet to concede in the opening four competitive matches of this campaign, a club first, having shut out Ruzomberok and Hajduk Split in the Europa League, plus Stoke City in the Premier League. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane, the joint record signings until the £45m arrival of Gylfi Sigurdsson last week, have impressed in Koeman’s new-look rearguard but, with City having also strengthened this summer, the Everton manager believes his defence will face its sternest test so far at the Etihad Stadium.
Asked whether Pickford would find it easy to collect another clean sheet against Pep Guardiola’s team, Koeman replied: “If we get a clean sheet on Monday I don’t know if it will be a miracle. Maybe it will but we do know we are strong defensively, our defensive organisation is strong. The key to getting a good result is what we do when we have the ball and that’s what our preparation will be about. You have different ways to play, we will look at the best way to get a good result.”
Everton benefited from defensive and offensive approaches against City last season, securing a 1-1 draw at the Etihad, thanks to two penalty saves from Maarten Stekelenburg, and a 4-0 win at home when punishing a chaotic Guardiola defence.
“I am a good friend of Pep and I know the way he likes to play,” said Koeman, Guardiola’s former room-mate at Barcelona. “It’s the most difficult way. It’s really a pleasure to see his teams playing football, with a high defence and a lot of offensive players in the team. But the Premier League sometimes is strong and physical, plus if you play with a high defence there is always space behind. When we played City at home we punished them for that but I think with the business they did in the summer City are stronger than last year.”
The Everton manager claimed City were favourites for the 2016-17 Premier League title after October’s draw at the Etihad. By January, however, and the heaviest league defeat of his managerial career, Guardiola conceded at Goodison his team were out of the title race. Koeman is wary of making a similar prediction this season.
He added: “When we played at City last season I mentioned that we were really lucky to get one point out of that game. On that day they played fantastic football and I spoke about them being the big favourites to win the league. After that they started to struggle but that’s football, you never know, it’s difficult to make predictions about who is the strongest. After the first weekend of this season, watching different teams, I was impressed by [Manchester] United on Sunday, also impressed by City, but maybe in two weeks or two months it can be different. That’s football – but City are strong, of course they are strong.”