Club Focus – Everton – Jagielka at the centre of Toffees’ Mackems mission

Everton travel to Sunderland on Monday night as the Premier League schedule gets back underway after the distraction of international football. Phil Jagielka in particular may relish a return to club football after spending the first-half of England’s defeat by France at right-back.

Jagielka did move to more familiar surroundings after the interval, linking up with former Everton teammate Joleon Lescott in the heart of an England backline that was breached twice on the night, once with Jagielka in his favoured position. After the test provided by Karim Benzema and company, Jagielka will be faced with another tough proposition in Sunderland’s in-form striker Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian who troubled Chelsea’s beleaguered defence last weekend. Gyan may be joined by Darren Bent after Sunderland manager Steve Bruce confirmed the striker was back in training after injury, or Danny Welbeck, who also excelled at Stamford Bridge and found the score sheet. Whoever partners Gyan, however, will provide a tough test for Jagielka at a time when his own club form has slipped from his past excellent performances.

It has been a topsy-turvy season for Jagielka, in much the same was as his club. The former Sheffield United defender was at one point Everton’s stand-out performer, keeping the Blues heads above water at a time when the rest of the team was creaking along, struggling for points and looking destined for a relegation battle. The No 6 remained impressive throughout that period, one of the only Everton players to do so, but the last couple of games have seen Jagielka enter something of a lull. Against Bolton Wanderers Jagielka looked unable to cope with either Kevin Davies or Johan Elmander and that insecurity perhaps led to hesitancy when in possession, fully exploited by Bolton who pounced on a Jagielka stumble for the game’s opening goal.

Usually composed on the ball, Everton’s midfield problems – a loss of form for Mikel Arteta and John Heitinga and Marouane Fellaini’s suspension – have meant the centre-back having to take more responsibility for building attacks from deep. With many teams getting men behind the ball against Everton each midfielder is often tightly marked and movement further forward has been disappointingly static lately, and Jagielka is then left with two options – roll the ball back to Tim Howard or attempt a long ball of his own, and this waste of possession has been a contributing factor in some recent poor Everton performances. The Toffees will be physically overmatched in most areas of the pitch at Sunderland – Everton are one of the smallest sides in the division – and launching the ball forwards aerially will put the Merseyside club on a hiding to nothing.

While Jagielka is stuttering his centre-back partner Sylvain Distin has excelled. The gulf in class between Distin and Jagielka has not been quite as much as their respective countries on Wednesday night, but with Jagielka restored to his best position and back in the colours of his club, a return to form may not be far away.

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