Frank Lampard has hailed the contributions of Conor Coady and James Tarkowski in transforming Everton's defensive fortunes. 

The Toffees had the fifth-worst goals-conceded figure last season in the Premier League, but the arrivals of Coady and Tarkowski from Wolves and Burnley respectively over the summer have worked wonders, with Lampard's men having conceded just seven league goals this term, the fewest in the division (albeit with a game in hand). 

When asked about the pair's partnership, Lampard was effusive in his praise ahead of Sunday evening's home match against Manchester United, exclusively live on BT Sport 1 and Ultimate from 7pm

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"It's hugely important for us. They’re setting standards here. The competition that we have and players that might want to get in the team - frustrated not to get into the team - have got to see this standard that we’re setting now about ourselves being hard to beat.

"It’s not [just about] Conor and Tarky - that goes through the whole team – but the good competition we have means you have to get to those levels.

"To get to a level of having that least-goals-conceded record is a good thing for everybody, and now [we must] sustain it, and the players that want to get in the team, you’ve got to sustain it if and when you get in."

Conor Coady and James Tarkowski organise the Everton defence against West Ham
Conor Coady and James Tarkowski have driven up standards and increased competition in the defence

It emerged in the week that Coady has a £4.5m release clause in his deal to take him to Goodison Park in the summer. 

Although he decided against confirming whether he would activate that clause, Lampard's admiration for the 29-year-old is evident. 

"It’s so far away [the option to make the move permanent] – a lot can happen. Conor’s been really, really good, to maybe understate it.

"He’s been amazing in terms of his own performance and in terms of his influence on the team on and off the pitch. I think that’s really visible. 

"Conor knows how I feel about him. I think Conor knows how the club feels about him and he’s said a lot himself about the feeling, but I don’t think it’s the time to answer that question.

"I just think it’s good that we’re working together; he’s settled in really quickly. I know what my feeling is, and we’ll see."

Dominic Calvert-Lewin in Everton training
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in contention to make his first appearance of 2022/23

At the other end of the pitch, Everton have struggled, scoring just seven league goals so far this term.

However, Lampard revealed that Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be in the frame to feature against the Red Devils having been out since early August with a knee injury. 

"He's a good player for us, pivotal in us staying in the league [last season]. We want to get him fit; we want to get him playing regularly."

Sunday's clash comes sixth months on from the corresponding fixture last term, which saw Anthony Gordon bag a deflected winner, and the blue half of Merseyside will be feeling quietly confident that they can replicate that result against Erik ten Hag's men, who were dominated by Manchester City in last weekend's derby and squeaked past Omonia in what was a gruelling trip to Cyprus in the Europa League.