Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Neville's worries over Everton's defence

Everton captain Phil Neville has warned his team-mates they have to toughen up in time for the visit of Arsenal on the opening day of the Barclays Premier League season.

The Toffees have won just one of six pre-season friendlies with their third defeat coming against Blackpool last night.

Last season Everton conceded 37 goals in 38 league matches and kept 17 clean sheets in the top flight but Neville is concerned they have not been able to rediscover that defensive rigidity ahead of the new campaign.

"At the moment it's easy for other teams to score against us, which is something that we need to eradicate," he said.

"It's not something you can turn on like a tap next Saturday come Arsenal, and at this moment in time we're probably physically a little bit soft.

"We need to get back to the mental toughness that we showed last season.

"I'm sure over the next few days, and leading up to the Arsenal game we'll be working hard at that.

"We pride ourselves on our defensive solidity, and it's probably not been there this pre-season yet.

"We need 11 leaders out there and that's what we've had for four years since I came to the club.

"We've got international players out there, everyone should be taking responsibility."

Everton have a tough opener at home to Arsenal before a midweek Europa League play-off tie and then a trip to Premier League newcomers Burnley on their return.

Last season David Moyes' side won just two of their first nine league matches but picked up around the turn of the year and eventually finished fifth.

Neville is keen to avoid a repeat of the form which left them struggling early on.

"We started the season slowly and fortunately enough we recovered," he told evertonTV.

"How many times we can keep doing that I don't know, but one thing is that we must make sure we start the season well, make sure we're mentally tough, we're solid and we do the things that Everton does best.

"We need to get back to that on Friday against Malaga, and obviously a good week's training next week as well."

Midfielder Steven Pienaar (thigh) and defender Joleon Lescott (hip) - a target for Manchester City - missed the Blackpool game with injuries but could return for the visit of Malaga on Friday.

And Moyes is confident Jo will be fit for the start of the season after the striker limped off in the defeat at Blackpool.

The Brazilian, on a season-long loan from Manchester City, scored the equaliser before injuring his ankle and leaving Bloomfield Road on crutches.

Moyes, however, has played down the seriousness of the injury.

"I think he's just rolled his ankle. I don't think it's too bad," he said.

"Hopefully he'll be all right, and it wasn't too serious."

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