DAVID MOYES has hailed Everton’s Phil Jagielka as one of the best “three or four” defenders in England.
After making a full recovery from the cruciate injury he sustained two years ago, Jagielka has now established himself as a member of Fabio Capello’s England squad.
The 28-year-old is also one of the rocks at the heart of Everton’s impressive rearguard, and was a major reason why the Blues came so close to keeping Premier League leaders Manchester United out at Old Trafford yesterday.
Javier Hernandez eventually breached Everton’s defences six minutes from time to secure a win that leaves Alex Ferguson’s men within touching distance of completing a record 19th championship triumph.
However, Moyes did not feel that cast Jagielka in a negative light as one of the stand-out performers in a largely impressive backs-to-the-wall display.
“You saw again that Jagielka is a very good defender,” said Moyes.
“He has great recovery.
“He is athletic and at grounds like Old Trafford, where Manchester United are quick to make through passes, he is able to cope with it.
“He is in the top three or four centre-halves in England – and England have some good centre-halves.”
Speed and an unerring ability to read the game have always been amongst Jagielka’s many attributes.
And Moyes reports excellent progress is being made in ensuring Jagielka becomes more effective in possession, something that will turn the former Sheffield United man into a modern-day player of the highest order.
“He would accept that is one of the areas he needs to improve on because he is very good at all the defensive things,” said Moyes.
“But, with his age and experience, he is getting better on the ball.”
The result ended Everton’s seven-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and virtually any lingering hope of qualification for next season’s Europa League.
As Tottenham’s failure to beat West Brom strengthened Manchester City’s top-four claims, it might turn out to be irrelevant anyway.
At least the Blues are well clear of trouble at the bottom though, which Moyes wondered whether they would end up in given the arduous nature of their recent fixtures and a crippling injury list.
“Given our run of games in the last five or six weeks, we might have been one of the teams at the wrong end of the league,” he said.
“But the players, they have done really well.
“Not that there is anything surprising in that. They should be at the top end.
“Maybe we are a league or two down from Manchester United in terms of quality, but I would like to think we will show the same toughness in every game we play from now until the end of the season.”