Sean Dyche says the changes that are needed at Everton are not as radical as some might think – but insists Premier League survival is paramount to the remodelling of the club.
Heading into the final three rounds of fixtures, just three points separate 16th-placed Nottingham Forest and second-from-bottom Leeds.
Everton will look to dampen another club’s ambitions when they host Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday – live on Sky Sports – before encounters with Wolves and Bournemouth to close out the campaign.
“You have to be aware of every situation, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that the next game is the most important,” Dyche exclusively told Sky Sports.
“Away from that, you do have to have an awareness of the bigger picture. It’s been evident that we believe in what we’re doing.
“We strongly believe we can look after ourselves in the next three games. But, in the background, you’ve got to have that little bit of realism.
“A ‘what if?’ But the changes aren’t as radical as some people might believe. It will go on, but we want to make sure that we’re in the Premier League.
“We’ve just put in a very strong away performance and we’re aware the next one is very tough against Manchester City, but the final three are going to be important as a collective set of games and we have to take them all on.”
Dyche on Doucoure future: There’s always an inside story
Dyche insisted his side never doubted themselves after a thumping 5-1 Premier League victory over Brighton lifted the Toffees two points clear of the relegation zone.
It was Everton’s first away league win in 14 attempts and could not have come at a more opportune time, with just three matches now remaining to secure their top-flight safety.
Abdoulaye Doucoure’s strike after 33 seconds laid down what ultimately felt like an emphatic opening statement as both he and Dwight McNeil went on to score twice.
Doucoure cast doubt over his future in the aftermath of the win at the Amex Stadium, stating he was not sure if the club would be taking up the offer of a one-year contract extension at the end of the season.
Such uncertainty is understandable given the club’s current plight, and Dyche has played down the speculation surrounding the Mali international midfielder.
“There’s always an outside story and there’s an inside story,” the Everton boss said. “In the media, we know there’s a spin on words and there are twists and tales.
“There are different views on people’s words and what they say up against the reality.
“I speak openly with my players and they know the script. They know what’s going on. They know the realities of Everton Football Club.
“Within that, if we get things right here, there will be fewer questions as things align better. The main job is to make sure we’re in the Premier League.
“There’s a number of different situations, and the club is well aware of it, but we have to be realistic. The focus has to be on staying up at this time.
“It has to stay on what we’re all doing and not on what one or two players will do. We all need to be pointing in the same direction.
“That’s what I wanted to build when I got here and there have been some strong signs of that.
“We have to perform until the end of the season and the last two games have given us a strong view whenever everyone is pushing in the right direction, what we can deliver.
“We have shown we can be a recognised outfit, and we’ve got to do that over the next three games.”
So will there be no decisions on players in the squad until the end of the season?
Dyche continued: “The main focus remains on getting it done as that is what I was brought here to do [keep the club in the Premier League].
“I’ve been brought in to bring in the regrowth and the remodelling of the club. There’s a lot going on and I feel the fans have been very fair since I’ve been here.
“They’ve been supportive on the pitch. They’ve remained focused on the team and that’s very important to us and we need that for the next three games. That’s going to help us with everything.”
‘I can’t control protests against the board’
Dyche is accustomed to the ‘noise’ off the pitch.
He witnessed the fracture between fans and board on just his second day in charge when protests were held outside Finch Farm training ground over the failure to make a January signing.
Since then, there have been peaceful demonstrations outside Goodison Park against the board, who have been advised to stay away from home games.
“It’s been there a long time,” said Dyche. “I can’t control everything at the football club. What I can control is the alignment between myself, the staff, the team and the fans.
“I don’t want to make myself out to be a football guru – I’m not that at all. I’m just saying that my previous success within football has been when everyone understands a situation.
“I can control what the team stands for, what they deliver, the impression and the way they play for the fans, and for each other… these are what I see as the controlables.
“We want a team that does celebrate the past and the massive stories of Everton, it is raised on the feel of a football club in the past but we also must build for the future.
“We must build a mentality, a skill level, a talent level and a tactical understanding which allows the team to perform.
“There have been signs of that, but it’s not a done deal. We’re not the real deal yet – but we want to be. The continuing signs are there, but the next three are our most important games.”
‘Calvert-Lewin offers us something different’
In the handsome win over Brighton, Dominic Calvert-Lewin demonstrated he can handle the pressure of trying to fire the club away from Premier League relegation trouble.
The 26-year-old made a timely return from a hamstring strain which had sidelined him since the start of February in last month’s goalless draw against Crystal Palace, and the striker has not suffered a recurrence of the injury.
While Calvert-Lewin has not been weighed down by expectation, Dyche says it is not the role of just one individual to preserve the club’s top-flight status.
“I believe in all our players, but looking at records, stats and facts, some players have been out there doing it for a while. Dom has been.
“He’s had a rough time with injuries, but I insisted on this idea of getting him as fit as possible. A setback then leads to being even more careful.
“He’s now come back in and he’s got fitter and stronger. At Brighton, he looked back to where I imagine him to be.
“His all-round game, his athleticism, his cleverness, creativity was all there. He didn’t score, but he was in the right positions. He’s a very good player and as with the other players, we want them all to come to life and for it to flow as a team.
“It’s not just a one-game situation, we have to build on it. Good strikers make teams better, and Dom gives us something different.
“His physical understanding of the game, his pace and controlled aggression, demand to score goals has brought others into the game. But we’re not a one-man team. We’re looking to build a good outfit, but the noise around Dom was fair.”
…and how to stop Haaland
On Sunday, Everton return to Goodison Park for the first time since they were thrashed 4-1 by Newcastle towards the end of last month. The club’s away form has slowly improved, but replicating the same result as in Dyche’s first game in charge against Arsenal in February will be a tall order.
Everton have won just one of their last 19 Premier League meetings with Manchester City, although the Toffees are the only side to have taken any points off Pep Guardiola’s side at the Etihad Stadium since the World Cup.
City’s recent form has been imperious, with their last away defeat coming against Tottenham on February 5 – a run of 17 wins in 21 unbeaten games. Erling Haaland arrives on Merseyside 12 shy of Dixie Dean’s all-time record for number of goals in a single top-flight season in England.
There is a statue of the Everton legend outside the Goodison gates, but Dyche insists his side must be proactive to halt City’s surge towards another Premier League title.
“It’s a collective mentality,” he said. “City are a super strong outfit, but like any team they can be beaten. It’s our job to find a way.
“It’s a challenge we will take on. Against the top sides, the basics have to be done.
“You’re going to have to work, you’re going to have to keep your shape and work very hard. It should be a given, but, against the top sides, you have to prevent their game plan from coming together, but you’ve got to be proactive as well.
“You can’t be subservient and find your moments as well. Finding the balance is tricky but it can be done and I’ve done it before. This group has done it before against Arsenal. If there’s a scratch of luck along the way then so be it as you need that.”
Watch Everton vs Man City live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 1pm on Super Sunday; kick-off 2pm