By Alex Fitzgerald
A model professional since the moment he arrived at the our club, Phil Jagielka has found a new lease of life under Sam Allardyce.
There’s no doubt under Everton’s previous two full time managers, that the defence has been something of an after thought. Phil Jagielka and co have had to pull themselves through the other side on more than one occasion and strangely it seems too have had some benefit.
A leader is able to provide both vocal and physical examples of why it is they hold that title. Having had the tough patches mentioned above, it would have been an easy thing to do to dismiss Jagielka as a centre back we could continue to rely upon. For those that stuck with him, Jags is now providing us with those kind of performances that have seen him grab interest from other clubs in the past and be a consistent part of the national team.
Admittedly though, Jagielka would probably play down his role in our performances since Sam Allardyce arrived. Instead putting it down to a good team effort, along with a good work rate. Typical of such a leader. But, as I sit and write this it’s very difficult too look much further than the man himself for an explanation too our sides upturn in defensive form, along with his new managers no nonsense approach.
Rediscovering the ability you once had is said too be easier than trying too learn something new the further a player goes in their career. That sentiment is probably right in the case of Phil Jagielka. Whilst Roberto Martinez was insistent on the ball being played out from the back, it’s not something most defenders are accustomed too. Similar with Ronald Koeman, except his philosophy was too play down the middle restricting a centre backs options when in possessionof the ball. As we all know, or have discovered, Big Sam is the complete opposite. Whilst it’s not excluded completely for the defence to find a pass from the back, it is rare, thus freeing the likes of Jagielka to get the ball forward and concentrate entirely on their main roles and responsibilities.
A pure and unadulterated approach from Everton’s current manager has literally given Phil Jagielka the time to reaffirm his core abilities as a defender. The improvements are noticeable; no more being caught out of position or too far forward, instead constantly in the right place and ready too defend against an oncoming attack. No more concerns about finding a pass, instead a clear directive to win the ball and get it out to allow the defensive shape to be restored. Similar improvements in Jagielka’s game have also been recognised with his ability once again in aerialchallenges and the timing of his tackles.
Whilst it’s pleasing too see that the simplistic approach has proven golden for Jagielka too get back too near his best, something must be said for his fitness which in my opinion has never failed our club captain. It’s never easy to retain fitness when we get older as a person, we all know that, so for Jag’s too continue to be close to the peak of the league’s strength and conditioning standardsis a real nod too his dedication too the game and his club.
Examples of Jagielka’s form under Allardyce haven’t just been staged against the ‘lesser sides’, he has stood up against the teams constantly in the top 6. The game against Chelsea, was a real sign that he was by no means done at Everton. Chelsea struggled for 90 minutes to find a weakness in the defence as a whole, with barely a mistake from Jagielka and his left sided centre back partner Michael Keane. Jordan Pickford certainly contribute massively on the day to Everton’s point in the goalless draw against Chelsea, but Jagielka refused to allow one of the better attacks in the league to force him into a mistake.
Credit must also be paid to Sam Allardyce, who has noted that Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams aren’t able to be relied upon as regularly as they may have done earlier in their careers. By not giving Jagielka a concentrated amount of games has allowed the English centre back to fully focus on a ‘one game at a time’ approach.
Between Everton’s game against Chelsea and our recent game against Liverpool in the cup, Jagielka played one out of a possible 3 matches. The one games was against Bournemouth were Everton struggled as a whole on the day. There was little relief for the defence as Bournemouth found it easy to mark our target man out of the game, preventing time on the ball in their half of the pitch. Although Everton conceded two goals against the Cherries, I find it tough to point any kind of blame in Jagielka’s direction specifically.
Possibly though, out of all the performances we’ve mentioned above, Jagielka’s best game was against Liverpool in the FA cup were he literally provided all of the assets he’s recovered over the last couple of months. His defending in quick and direct runs towards our goals was impeccable. He kept his shape continuously and never allowed himself to be drawn to the ball instead allowing attacks to come towards him, holding his ground and then completing his duties by timing his tackle. We saw that lung busting run in the second half to support Ademola Lookman in a counter attack on the back of defending a corner, yet more evidence of his clear fitness and pace with a final degree of clarity and composure to get on the ball in space and drag it back for Sigurdsson to finish.
The captain aspect of Jagielka’s games has barely suffered amongst the difficult moments the team has faced in recent seasons. A calm, yet firm character has always allowed him to lead his team by example. Point and evidence was indeed in the FA Cup derby recently. After the whole incident with Mason Holgate and his subsequent reaction, Jagielka provided a composed but clear message to the young centre back when he needed it the most. Arguably that small conversation with the youngster allowed the two of them to continue the game and stick to the plan they had implemented. It was brilliant to see and very effective, proving once more the respect his peers have for their captain.
The components that have allowed the resurgence that Phil Jagielka has provided to his own game are due to the many factors we’ve mentioned. The amount of games he’s played combined with his dedication to fitness has provided him with the ultimate reward and belief that he can still cut it at the top. The defenders natural ability to do the basics expected, exceptionally well, have added to his confidence to do things a little outside of the realms that you can expect from a centre back and to do those things effectively. Finally, his commitment to his club as a captain through some dark and endless days has led to reward at the very point in his career when he will have needed it the most, to convince himself and others he is more than worthy of his role in Everton’s team and is just as good as any current option we have.