Everton defender Leighton Baines has promised a tough return to Premier League action for Sunderland this weekend – with the Toffees increasing their intensity and aggression.
Both sides had a blank Saturday because of their third-round exits in the FA Cup, allowing the Black Cats to head to New York in a team-bonding exercise, while Everton had a week of warm-weather training in Dubai.
The Merseysiders welcome Sunderland, managed by ex-Goodison Park boss David Moyes, this Saturday, with the visitors at the bottom of the table and seventh-placed Everton on a fine run of five wins and three draws in their last eight league games.
Baines believes that the encouraging form surge shows that the Blues’ players are adapting well to boss Ronald Koeman’s demands for his squad.
“The manager wants intensity, a bit of aggression and good football as well,” said left-back Baines.
“We can improve in all of those departments – you always can – but I think he has been more pleased in what he is seen in that respect [recently].
“We’re on a good run at the moment and, obviously, we’ve been working hard (in Dubai) to extend that.
“We all know they’re all tough games, but we’ve had good preparation and there’s a good feeling around the place so we’ll try to keep that momentum going.
“At this level, there are fine lines at times. We work hard every week, we’ve been on a good run, a bad run and now we’re back on another good run – but, generally, the work we’ve done has been the same.”
Sunderland were thumped 3-0 by a rampant Everton at the Stadium of Light earlier this season, when dangerman Romelu Lukaku plundered a hat-trick.
After a goal drought, the Belgian is back on top form, with seven goals in seven matches since New Year.
Baines saluted the talented striker, telling evertonfc.com: “Rom scores all types of goals.
“There’s nothing you can’t see him doing, whether it be inside the box, outside the box, on his left foot, on his right foot, headed goals, tap-ins, set pieces – he’s that type of player.
“His goalscoring record throughout his career has been great and that’ll continue. It’s brilliant for us.
“I also think he deserves credit for not just the amount of goals he scores, but the amount of games he plays as well.
“He often leads the line on his own and that’s a tough task, but he doesn’t miss many games and that’s credit to him.”