Benitez Effect Growing as Everton Claim Valuable Point

Lyndon Lloyd 02/10/2021 69comments  |  Jump to last
Manchester United 1 - 1 Everton

To the uninitiated, a cursory look at the two team sheets would have quickly led to the conclusion that this game was a serious mis-match and that the destination of the points was fairly predictable. While Rafael Benitez’s list of substitutes contained two goalkeepers, three teenagers with just a few appearances between them, and a perennially injured midfielder who has still only made one Premier League start, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would bring almost £200m worth of talent off his bench in the second half and still had to settle for a point.

Indeed, had the first of Everton’s two subs had more confidence in his ability to shoot with just David de Gea to beat rather than lay the ball across to the offside Yerry Mina, the Blues might have plundered all three points. As it was, they more than matched their much-fancied hosts and claimed a valuable draw, a result that might have seemed beyond them on paper but which underlines not just the impressive work done by Benitez so far but the under-appreciated quality that exists in his ranks.

Their contribution to Everton’s strong start has been highlighted already, of course, but it’s still amazing to think that Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray cost the club a combined £1.7m this past summer. In the expectation of bigger names to come, the pair were regarded as acquisitions to provide important depth to the Toffees’ squad. What they have demonstrated as irreplacible week-to-week starters since, however, is that they are excellent players who look as though they have found a genuine home at Everton where they can show what they can do.

Discarded by Crystal Palace, a club seeking a fresh start under Patrick Vieira, Townsend arrived on a free transfer with some Evertonians wary of another Fabian Delph-style veteran that might fail to live up to his billing as experienced squad member and positive changing-room presence. In nine matches in all competitions, the under-rated 30-year-old has scored five goals and set up three and today he popped up at the end of a terrific counter-attacking move to sweep home a vital equaliser.

It was no more than Everton, who weathered almost everything United threw at them but were undone by one of few lapses in shape on the day, deserved and it ensured that the Toffees have now not lost at Old Trafford for three successive seasons. The talk in the media will, no doubt, focus on United and their recent run of just two wins in six in all competitions; what will go under the radar is how much there was to admire from this performance by the Blues despite the absence of Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Seamus Coleman.

That was more notable because from the opening exchanges, played at a fast clip that set the tone for the contest overall, it was clear that Everton had not caught United on an off-day. Both sides were moving the ball around crisply but it was the home side who looked the more likely to make the breakthrough.

United carved out the first clear-cut chance when Aaron Wan-Bissaka wrong-footed Lucas Digne down United's right flank and crossed for Martial but the Frenchman had mis-timed his jump and could only glance a header well off target.

At the other end, Rondon dallied over an opportunity created for him by Digne but was, in any case, flagged for offside before Michael Keane guided a header narrowly wide from Townsend's free-kick after the former Crystal Palace winger had been fouled himself by Luke Shaw.

Understandably, Solskjaer's side continued to look the more dangerous in the final third and it took a good save from Jordan Pickford to deny Edinson Cavani as he got down smartly to push the Uruguayan's header behind for a corner.

As they would later underscore with their goal, Everton were a persistent threat on the counter and when Doucouré and Townsend combined as the Blues surged out of their half in the 25th minute, the former picked Rondon out with a cross from the left but the Venezuelan's shot was blocked.

Their best chance of the half came from Gray, however, with a superb individual effort where he picked up the ball from deep, powered into space between two defenders and struck a low shot that was curling towards the corner until De Gea palmed aside well. Gordon's low delivery from the byline was later dummied by Rondon but Townsend's touch was also stopped in front of goal before Wan-Bissaka's out-stretched leg charged down Doucouré's goal-bound shot from near the penalty spot.

Constantly marshalled by Benitez from the sidelines with instructions to remain compact, Everton were unfortunately undone by a rare positional mistake two minutes before the interval.

Godfrey had drifted out of the right-back area and towards his own “D” which left Martial in oceans of space in the back of the penalty area where he was teed up by Fernandes to despatch a deflected shot past Pickford.

If the initial indications early in the second period suggested that United would take control of proceedings and eventually run away with it, Everton continued to dig in and frustrate them, even after Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and then Paul Pogba stepped off the bench to bolster the hosts' cause.

And of the couple of chances that were created in the first 20 minutes after the restart, both fell to Everton and Townsend. The first was an unlikely headed opportunity from Digne's cross that dropped onto the roof of the net but the second was delivered on a gilded platter by Doucouré at the end of a rapier-like breakaway.

The Toffees cleared a corner after the indomitable Allan had blocked an attempted centre from Scott McTominay and the ball was kept in brilliantly by Gray's quick feet after he had out-muscled Fred on the touchline. His ball inside found the rampaging figure of Doucouré and when he slid a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Townsend, the new Blue hero despatched a crisp shot across the keeper whose feet remained rooted to the spot.

Davies replaced Gordon with 18 minutes to go as Benitez moved to shore up midfield to protect the point but Everton were nearly undone by Sancho and Ronaldo. Thankfully, the Portuguese cut his shot from a very right angle across the face of Pickford's goal and wide of the far post.

To the visitors' enormous credit, that would be the last real chance that the Red Devils would be allowed to create and had there been a winner, it would have been Everton's. Godfrey got the better of Sancho challenging for the ball after a corner from the Blues' left had been headed clear and then knocked it to Davies who had found himself in 10 yards of space and with the De Gea and his goal at his mercy.

The Tom Davies of a few years ago when he burst onto the first-team picture with that superb goal against the other Manchester club might well have buried this chance but, on the back of a much-criticised performance at QPR in the Carabao Cup in which his penalty miss send the Blues out, the 23-year-old is in a different head space.

He elected not to shoot on and chose instead to slide the ball across to Mina but, unfortunately, the defender was a yard ahead of the ball and the last man and the Blues's celebrations of a dramatic late winner were cut short but a quick check from Video Assistant Referee, Stuart Atwell.

In truth, while the post-match analysis from pundits has focused on United’s failings, had that been the winner it wouldn’t have flattered Everton who, as has become customary under Benitez, had far less of the ball but are making a habit — the defeat at Villa Park aside — being highly productive with it when they do. The Blues rank among the teams with the least average possession at the moment but are top five in attacking xG, a sign that Benitez is drawing the most out of the resources at his disposal without controlling matches.

Indeed, given the imbalance in the quality of these two squads in general and then the key absentees on the day that meant that in many ways meant Benitez came into the proverbial fight with one hand tied behind his back, this was a terrific performance and result from Everton.

More than that, it was effected by a group of players that engenders plenty of pride and which is incredibly easy to like, something that hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Benitez has put his trust in a small unit of hard-working pros exhibiting heart, desire and end product and, thus far, has been rewarded with Everton’s best points tally after seven games for 17 years.

With that as the platform, the squad can now use the international break to rest, get some of those important injury absentees back in the fold and prepare for back-to-back home games that provide a great opportunity to tack on more points in a bid to stay among the leading pack.

More stern challenges await against other title contenders but it's days like today that offer hope that none of them need be regarded as write-offs.


Reader Comments (69)

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Brian Furey
1 Posted 03/10/2021 at 08:09:35
I was at my first game this season with my eldest son but sadly we were in the Stretford End, trying to keep quiet and blend in.

Our midfield was awesome and especially Gray is a joy to watch. He's so fast and positive and chases everything. Lovely to see two positive wingers create and finish chances. Doucouré had a great game too, as did Allan.

Rafa really knows what he's at and his dealings with James shows there is no room here for egos or lack of hard work.

Rondon, however, is still a long way of the pace. I've not seen much of him so far but he's very slow and ponderous.

Sitting 4th and could have been 2nd is a fabulous start to the season, especially with so many injuries to important players. I know we've not played many big guns yet but yesterday showed we can defend well as a team away from home and now have fast players to play on the break.

Keep up the good work, Rafa.

Brian Murray
2 Posted 03/10/2021 at 08:33:46
Brian. Reminds me of a visit there in 85 with my two older brothers. We could only get in the Stretford End. Hard to keep quiet especially then as the kings of all and everything. I'm so proud to be a Blue at the moment. Long may it continue.
Jerome Shields
3 Posted 03/10/2021 at 08:50:56
Lyndon, your essential core of Allan, Doucouré, Gray and Townsend have held up well, showing that they can keep a mobile, interchanging midfield going at all levels in the Premier Leaague. This has been missing from Everton teams prior to Benitez's arrival.

As you say, keeping shape is important, Godfrey showing why. I do think that the contribution of Rondon keeping shape has been overlooked by many, preventing Man Utd from pushing up defensively, allowing space for the counter-attack in midfield. He is rusty, but is trying to do the right things. He will eventually get it right, some of which is weak in Calvert-Lewin's repertoire. Gordon had a good game, with less Iowbi frustrations. Richarlison would add a further dimension in finishing certain opportunities, but Rondon gave a comparable account of himself regarding workrate.

Last but not least was Rafa's obviously motivational enthusiasm, clear direction, and complete absorption in managing Everton, with collar slightly askew. He later said that Man Utd played as he expected, with or without the players who were available as subs. "I honestly could see no difference. " A confident manager knowing his job.

By the way, Everton should have won, as all that observed knew. I do like that there is place for youth at Everton on the front bench.

Jim Lloyd
4 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:03:29
Fine report, Lyndon, and good posts from the two Brians and Jerome.
Robert Tressell
5 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:10:33
It is very impressive. Jamie owned up to anticipating a thumping on another thread. I was similarly worried. But Benitez has managed to instil a bit of confidence in this group and got everyone enjoying their jobs again.

The club has had the life sucked out of it since Martinez's second season. Benitez has got them looking like they're enjoying it again. We will get turned over by better sides now and again but it'll require more nous than throw a load of expensive players on the pitch and that should do it.

Mike Doyle
6 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:21:56
In Gray and Townsend we appear to have signed players who believe that joining Everton represents their final opportunity at a big club / to get their careers back on track and seem intent on seizing the opportunity. In some ways their attitude is reminiscent of another Gray and a Reid in the 80’s - two players whose low cost arrival was regarded as underwhelming by many supporters - but had a massive impact on those around them. Lightning couldn’t strike twice could it?
Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:24:08
I'll start with the one retrospective negative. I know it's a necessity and the manager has to play with what he has, but those who advocate centre backs playing as full back should look at the United goal. Godfrey's instinct is to be central and he subsequently leaves way too much space on the flank.

Anyway, a minor flaw and I'm not going to criticise too much. He done what was asked of him.

As ever, spot on report Lyndon.

Your opening paragraph resonates. Myself, my brother and son all commented on the difference in benches. We had nothing that would change the match had it evolved differently. That's going to be our problem this season. As it has been for years now. We have a good 12 - 14, but scratch the surface beyond that and we have very little in the armoury.

That said, I never had any doubt we could get something. Genuinely. United may have the players on paper, but they are a collection of players, not a team. That is something Mr Benitez is shaping this Everton squad into. A team with shape, organisation and a plan for each game.

If he is responsible, I want to call out the much questioned Marcel Brands. It may not be the transfer window we wanted and we lack the right back cover we all know we need.

But similar to last season, he has seemingly gone out and followed the direction of the manager and brought in young potential (Gray) alongside experience and the benefit of leadership (Townsend).

The description of our goal is bang on. What a classic counter attacking move. Starts with defending, followed up by desire and commitment to retain and recycle the ball and ends with a first time beauty of a finish.

I'm not going to be overly harsh on Davies. Yes, a more confident player would have shot. But he looked up and saw a player so played and instinctive pass like a lot of players would have done. Hopefully, he'll know next time. And hopefully watch how Townsend just didn't even look or think. As I said on Michael's report, he knew what he was going to do with that as soon as Doucoure rolled it into his path. Instinctive.

Dennis Stevens
8 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:40:48
If only Mina had stayed onside! Everybody would be praising Davies for selflessly sliding the ball across to the unmarked man for a simple tap in to win the match.
Adam Carey
9 Posted 03/10/2021 at 09:48:13
A good balanced report, as ever from Lyndon.

I was unable to fully watch the game due to the Missus wanting some DIY done, but did have it on the phone to mainly listen out for excitement so I could watch the highlights. When I did get the odd few minutes respite, I thought we were good value and were not dominated by Man Utd. With the squad we currently have, we are not going to tiki-taka our way through games. We tried that with Martinez and still weren't winning enough.

I get so fed up with these managers stating that their team should have won as they had over 65% possession. Goals win games, not passing stats. The Premier League app shows Man Utd had over twice the touches on the ball, yet we nearly matched them for shots on and off target and looked more likely to win.

This season, we are going to be a counter-attacking force and I am happy with that. The feeling when we broke for the equaliser was more exciting than watching us pass the ball 20 times and then side foot it from 4 yards. I can watch England games for that.

Rafa has really got this team working for each other. It reminds me of when Big Dunc had the reigns and we fought for results, albeit Rafa has the nous to finesse the style.

I have this ongoing arguement with a few mates who support Chelsea and Arsenal regarding player commitment and fan responses. They battered me with banter during the summer as they spent big money. However, I'd rather have genuine pros fighting to prove a point than a £70M+ 'star' looking bored on the bench, and have fans who don't look fed up because they aren't winning like they 'should be'.

Most of the media will focus on stuttering Man Utd but I rather like to think that Rafa out-thought Ole. Now I can maybe start dreaming what he can do with a decent transfer budget.

Barry Hesketh
10 Posted 03/10/2021 at 10:12:27
The first remit for whoever took over the reins at Goodison, this last summer, was to try and get the players already on the payroll, to produce a lot more than they had done in previous seasons.

So far the new boss has done that and long may it continue, the fact that he has been shorn of Everton's main goalscorers, for the most part, is a testament to his own ability and the positive impact and influence that the new signings have made to the squad.

Unfortunately, for Evertonians, false dawns have become the norm, so none of us are likely to go overboard even with the positive results and better all-round displays on offer this season. The team will still rely on being injury-free in key areas, particularly in midfield where at the moment the engine room is working very well.

Only around a fifth of the season has played out so far, which highlights the length of the campaign and the difficulty that the team will have in continuing
to perform to the same standard for its entirety.

Having cast doubt on the team's ability to continue its fine form, I get the sense that the manager is building a team/squad fit for purpose and more importantly shaping it in a way that pleases most Evertonians and we haven't witnessed that too often in the last few years.

Benitez may not be everybody's cup of tea and he may have upset a lot of Blues when he was hired, but he may just be the most important appointment that Everton has made in the last 20 years - we'll have to wait and see - as like the impact of the French Revolution - it's far too early to tell.

We can only take each match as it arrives and hope that the team continues to work hard and delivers some more moments of magic to enjoy in the remaining thirty-odd fixtures.

Geoff Trenner
11 Posted 03/10/2021 at 10:17:06
Good report in The Sunday Times today. Theme is ‘Rafa out-thought Ole’. Lots of praise for the way Everton approached the game and for Doucoure,, Gray and Townsend in particular. Gray their MOTM, can’t argue with that!
Steve Guy
12 Posted 03/10/2021 at 10:47:29
We took a knife to a gun fight but we used the pointy end, where Utd didn’t know how to use their gun. Early days but I’m enjoying watching us this season for the first time in a long while. Apart from some early flourishes last season we were awful to watch….same in prior seasons. Much was made of Benitez being a negative manager but I see nothing negative in our approach thus far especially given the injuries he’s had to cope with.
Dave Williams
13 Posted 03/10/2021 at 10:57:31
Rafa has given us our pride back! It is so refreshing to see the whole team working as one unit, fighting to win every ball, keeping shape and attacking with more pace than I can recall for many years.
Townsend is a marvellous acquisition,seems a thoroughly decent bloke and must be great to have in the dressing room and on the pitch. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Gray outmuscled Fred to win that ball at the start of the move for the goal as I didn’t think he had that in him. What a player he could become and I could see him as our No.10 with Richi and Andros wide.
Mina is playing much better under Rafa and Keane seems to have overcome his shaky start and is looking better by the game.
Godfrey looked much sharper yesterday- I know from a couple of mates how Covid knocks you out for some time after you have recovered from it- Iwobi is,I feel,a work in progress with Rafa as he clearly sees ability there and it will challenge him to see if he can bring it out.
Rafa’s touchline coaching is a fine example to younger coaches and he really is giving us value for money.
It all begs the question for me as to what on earth Ancelotti was doing for his enormous wage packet?
Graham Mockford
14 Posted 03/10/2021 at 10:57:56
One of the smartest moves Benitez has made is to give Doucoure his head. He is no longer shackled to sitting protecting his centre halves.

As a result we are seeing what a marvellous athlete he is and even more surprisingly what an attacking option he provides. Although ask any Watford fan and they’ll tell you that’s how he played for them.

I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get a call up from Deschamps this season and credit to the lad. He turned down Mali because he’s backed himself to break into the French team.

Jerome Shields
15 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:09:36
I did have dreams of Rodriguez on the edge of the area as a creative threat, but realised in this game that Rondon is prepared to put in more effort and movement even if is a bit off pace.

Rondon was given more respect by the Man U defence than he gets on ToffeeWeb, which counts for more IMO.

Fran Mitchell
16 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:10:21
Our style of play is much improved. Whereas last season we were defensive and basically reliant on set pieces, this season we are defensive but direct in how we attack.

Doucoure is the best example of this, and Grey and Townsend clearly offer the pace to allow this direct counter attacking. But Doucoure has been immense.

Last season, Doucoure and Allan would both be so deep, they'd run around a lot but they had nowhere to pass too, and as thus, they lost possession far too much and we all lamented how bad their passing was

Now, Doucoure charges forward every time we get possession. Allan is allowed thus to focus on what he's best at, and by Doucoure charging, we have options to pass to with 3 players (Grey, Doucoure, Townsend) all attacking with pace.

It's great to watch, exciting and allows us to have just 30% possession but still be the most dangerous side.

With DCL and Richy to join in still, and Gordon getting more and more minutes and confidence, we have real pace in attack that will unsettle even the best defences.

Sam Fitzsimmons
17 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:21:38
As Adam has already said a well balanced report Lyndon.
Just a couple of brief observations. Without doubt Rafa is a master at improving players but he also seems to be molding a team that has a bit of the "esprit de corps", which I'm not sure I've seen since Moyes. The response to McTominay roughing up Gordon was just one example yesterday,

On another note, how did Fernandez not get a yellow card for his challenge on Godfrey early in the first half(I think it was Godfrey) and then should've had a second yellow for his tackle on Allan in the second.

Nicholas Ryan
18 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:31:05
While predicting the future is usually very foolish; here goes. Apparently we have had the same [good] start this season, in terms of points, as we did under Carlo.

I suspect, that with the energetic, never-say-die, mindset that Rafa has instilled, we won't have the awful end of season meltdown that we had last term.

Therefore, logically, we should finish higher than last time.

My prediction: 5th or 6th and [therefore] European football!

Kim Vivian
19 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:39:49
A word about Salomon Rondon.

I have to own up to being one of the live forum critics of Rondon and although he won't read this I would apologise for that. He is clearly not fully match fit but did do alot more yesterday than previously and seems to be making inroads each game he plays. On watching back after the game you realise that his cotribution is more than it appears because it's so easy to focus on mistakes and even minor (perceived) errors. His effort cannot be faulted (unlike a few absentees who could, and can't, be mentioned) and seems to gel with the rest of the squad ok.

I used to rate him when he was playing at Newcastle and I do feel we have a viable back up player there although initially a bit disappointed, but assuming DCL is recovered by the 17th not sure how much we will get to see of him - although Rafa does talk about not overusing his players.

Keep up the good effort Salomon and show us what you can do.

Brian Harrison
20 Posted 03/10/2021 at 11:47:51
Well being very anti Benitez and still not a 100% comfortable seeing him in our dug out, I have to say he has done a remarkable job since joining the club.
Considering he has had no money to spend the purchases of Townsend and Gray has transformed the way we play, and the way he has organised the style we play has been crucial to our recent performances. I have to say Demarai Gray is probably the most exciting signing we have made in a very long time, this lad has everything, pace which is always a great asset but this lad has much more than just pace he can go past people on both sides and can finish. Townsend has also surprised me his work rate is brilliant and he may not have the electric pace of Gray but as he proved again he is a goal scoring wide man something again we have lacked for a long time.

I said a few weeks back on here that Allan and Doucoure were the best midfield pairing we have had for a long time, and again both were right up there as MOM performers. I know Doucoure being the most attacking of the 2 often gets the plaudits but the covering and cutting out of potential attacks by Allan should not be overlooked. I read a piece by Peter Reid the other day and he said he has been very impressed with Allan last season and this season as well, and if you impress Peter then there is no better recommendation. I also think that Keane and Mina are our best CB pairing I know many have called for Godfrey to play CB but I have said on here before his positional play needs to improve a lot and I think his inability to win many aerial battles is also a reason not to play him at CB. Yesterday he displayed both these faults again firstly letting Martial get in a header at the far post which could have led to a goal. And for the goal he was stood next to Mina instead of marking Martial which led to the goal. Now I know the lad is still recovering from Covid but the mistakes he made need to be eradicated from his game. For me he would make an excellent full back and maybe that's where he might find a regular spot in the team.

I think over the Tom Davies chance you could put up an argument for shooting or passing, personally I think he should have shot but maybe he isn't as confident as he would normally have been given his lack of game time. But he did have the ability to move wide to be able to accept the pass that created the chance. I thought that was Rondons best game since joining the club. Also well done to Anthony Gordon a very promising outing and I hope that he gets the chance if not to start when everybody is fit but to certainly be ahead of Iwobi in the pecking order.

Finally just to put yesterday into a little perspective Man Utd have recently lost to Young Boys and Aston Villa, and were soundly out played by Villareal but some how managed to win. Yes they have some very talented players but they don't look like a team who look like challenging for the title.

Tony Everan
21 Posted 03/10/2021 at 12:17:04
Excellent report as always Lyndon, thank you.

Benitez said recently he only wants to sign players who WANT to play for Everton. Players who are motivated and happy to be here. I seem to remember him say as much preseason. Gray and Townsend feel privileged to be here and are giving their all for the club, they cost 1.7m, obviously not all players will cost that but there is a lesson there that it is not all about money.

It is about dedication, focus and supreme effort of the players signed. Their willingness to learn from the manager and coaches and their ability to execute drilled tactics and keep shape on the pitch. Benitez has this as one of his foundations for building a proper team.

Watching the training videos the players look happy with their work. There seems to be a positive vibe about FInch Farm. I liked what I saw with the fast passing and moving training too.

As always gets said, it’s early days yet. But with important players coming back in DCL, Richarlison and Seamus we will be more dangerous and potent in front of goal.

Add Richarlison and DCL to the revelation of having goals from midfield with Doucoure, Townsend and wide from Gray. It makes me optimistic that we are well and truly heading in the right direction.

We are in a similar position in the league as with Carlo at this stage , but this feels much different. With Benitez’s more organised and pragmatic approach, getting the very best out of our players by using them in the best way and the team spirit he is nurturing, I can sense consistency of form is more likely this time round.

All this without spending anything in the summer along with getting some big earners off the books. It looks now like there is some headroom to get one or two players in January to keep us strong. Then the same again next summer when Delph,Tosun and Sigurdsson’s hefty contracts expire.

Brian Harrison
22 Posted 03/10/2021 at 12:25:34
Tony 21

While I agree with a great deal you say in your post, I have to say that the vibe that Ancelotti created at Finch Farm seemed just as positive as the players are now. Yes he played a more defensive set up, but in the early days right up to Xmas was proving to be productive. I think despite last season ending up rather disappointing I think we have to give Ancelotti some praise in signing Doucoure, Allan, James, Godfrey and Olsen, don't think there was a bad signing amongst them.

Dean Johnson
23 Posted 03/10/2021 at 12:51:29
So exasperated was I at the appointment of Benitez, that I said on here that I was done.

However, I have to give credit to ToffeeWeb.com for helping me keep the faith and boy I'm enjoying being am evertonian again.

Not much to add to what has already been said other than a main point that appears to have been overlooked: both Gray and Townsend are 2 footed.

Its always been a beef of mine that so many pro footballers only have 1 usable foot. Rafa has shown more football knowledge on these short weeks than we've seen at Everton for years, we finally have a proper top level manager that can help us finally build.

Kudos to moshiri, he's finally made the correct appointment

Bill Gienapp
24 Posted 03/10/2021 at 13:15:16
Don't have much to add, other than to say that was a hugely creditable performance, and would have been even if we didn't get anything out of it. The League Cup exit cast a brief pall over things, but if you think about it, as far as the league is concerned, we've basically just had a bad 10-minute spell against Aston Villa.

Maybe we can all just collectively pretend that Gray cost 30+ million and Iwobi was only 1.7?

Barry Rathbone
25 Posted 03/10/2021 at 13:33:40
Benitez is doing really well and fair minded fans can see it's not luck even if the "false dawn" ghoul lingers. He has arrived in a place where no one wanted him the pre appointment vibe was virtually a unanimous - "fuck off Rafa". But his courage is now reflected in the team and his smile suggests he's becoming a member of the "once Everton has touched you" club.

I've read people on other forums saying they won't support him because of his previous incarnation even if he wins the Prem!! Bigotry in all it's unforgiving and intolerant glory.

Mike Doyle
26 Posted 03/10/2021 at 13:53:57
Barry #25] while I’m sure Rafa would prefer to be liked than disliked, I’m sure he’d settle for being respected ( as he was after his spell at Chelsea - according to the Chelsea fans I work with).
At present he’s impressing far more than recent incumbents, this despite having spent pennies. Long May he prosper!
Jay Evans
27 Posted 03/10/2021 at 14:11:55
I thought we were wonderful. So well drilled without the ball and dangerous and pacey when when attacked. I was very proud of our team yesterday, even more so so when you think about how thin on the ground our starting eleven was.

I genuinely feared the worst before kick off but I think United underestimated us with their team selection and our shape and spirit gave us a point which was the very least we deserved.

The midfield looks so well balanced, loads of aggression and width and covering for one another and (as we saw yesterday) backing your teammates up if it goes off !

Keep up the good work on the training ground Mr Benitez, it is clearly paying off.

Stan Schofield
28 Posted 03/10/2021 at 14:53:41
Barry @25:

It's not true that no-one wanted him. Quite a few did want him. Others were sceptical, perhaps naturally, given a view that he hadn't done anything major for some time. Only a minority gave the ‘fuck off' impression.

For myself, I thought I'd wait and see how it pans out after a series of not terribly successful managerial appointments. We've had our hopes raised with previous managers, only to be disappointed. So far, so good with Benitez, but there's a long way to go.

We were very good yesterday.

Graham Mockford
29 Posted 03/10/2021 at 15:05:59
There was always a massive overreaction by some to his potential and ultimate appointment. I remember one of our most eloquent and considered posters submitting a very funny article predicting the last days of the Apocalypse.

Being a pragmatist at heart, my view was always let's see how he does, appreciating he was going to have less rope than most new managers. Well, so far so good... but, like any manager, he will be judged on results and performances.

At least there are a few who've saved on wasting their bedsheets for the time being.

Jerome Shields
30 Posted 03/10/2021 at 15:24:58
Tony #21,

I am not so sure about Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.

Everton are not getting as compacted in midfield by the opposition defence, allowing the free-flowing counter-attack of Allan, Doucouré, Gray and Townsend. Everton are getting into attacking threating positions and attacking players are not getting channeled.

Players in the penalty area are shooting and finishing with either foot. Attackers are trying to move into position to receive the ball or draw defenders. Final-third play has improved with better pass-completion rates.

Both Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are going to find it more demanding and competitive in their prefered positions. If Rondon can get up to match speed, the pressure will be even more on them.

Paul Jones
31 Posted 03/10/2021 at 15:58:56
I remember before his appointment suggesting that, when you have a dysfunctional club ownership, that Benitez would appear to probably be the man to appoint given his track record at Valencia, Liverpool & Newcastle, who had no coherent direction from their owners and were deeply unpopular with the fans. At Chelsea and Real Madrid, he seemed to manage with relative success despite being an unpopular appointment with the fans.

Given the paucity of the squad, it is good that we have a very proactive manager on the touchline. The squad we have do need further coaching and direction; "galacticos" they are not. The professionalism, hard work and team organisation seemed almost non-existent post-Moyes with a succession of "Director of Football" buys that didn't even "flatter to deceive".

Financial Fair Play (FFP), although designed to protect the self-anointed elite from competition, may have helped Everton because, without accompanying Champions League football and saturation world wide media coverage and owner with very deep pockets, the future did not look sustainable.

I hope by the time of the next transfer window that we can responsibly strengthen the squad.

Dale Self
32 Posted 03/10/2021 at 16:20:45
If we have to look back then I’ll offer two blurred observations (we’re joint third I think next kickoff) First, Carlo advances us without Gray or Townsend who together largely explain our transformation. Ancelotti was building a more distributed team dynamic that would’ve developed around specific skills and tendencies of high skill / high ego maintenance football beauty providers. He had the impression Moshiri would fund that project.

Second, Benitez has realized early that his funding and the old Everton club ethos are possibly in line with what’s in the transfer market and is sounding out where we want to go as a club. It is a more grounded and workmanlike offering than what Carlo, that Italian waiter was serving. We were all waiting with Carlo and he was waiting for Moshiri. Rafa is better informed and skilled in the premier league club complex of things you have to do as a manager.

Mike Gaynes
33 Posted 03/10/2021 at 16:31:47
Great summary, Lyndon, and a great description of the goal. However, Mina was not "a yard ahead of the ball"... his body and head were even with it. Only his extended foot, in stride, was ahead of the ball. If the pass is made a fraction of a second earlier, before he extends that stride, he's onside and we win. As for Davies, I doubt he ever considered shooting... he's a pass-first player with only three goals in the past four and a half years. I'd have been very surprised if he'd had a crack at goal in that situation.

Danny #7, I can't figure out Godfrey at this point. He didn't show the tendency to drift inside when he was playing left back last year, but now at right back he is continually out of position. Our defensive weak link right now, no question.

Graham #14, spot on re Doucoure. And Rafa's decision to turn him loose.

Mick Conalty
34 Posted 03/10/2021 at 17:30:35
I see Keoman and Ancelotti are getting their arses burnt in Spain.
Long may it continue.😄
Jim Bennings
35 Posted 03/10/2021 at 18:20:58
Not much to add than what's already been said.

Great result from a hard venue and one which has down the years caused us no end of troubles albeit it has improved in the last 7-8 years.

Mostly we had 11 excellent performers and it was a great team display.

What I learned from the game.

Keane and Mina are our best defensive pairing at least for now.

We need Coleman back not that he should be our first choice, he shouldn't but at the moment he's the best option at right-back.

Gordon should have a run in the team ahead of the pointless Alex Iwobi.

Gray and Townsend are pound for pound our best signings since Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar (who'd have thought eh that you don't need to go to the continent and start splashing mega money on unproven players?)

Doucoure has become a beast, the player that we seen at Watford and it just proves that Ancelotti for some reason or another decided to hold him back last season, bizarre when you see what the fella has in the tank.

On the Tom Davies chance, it pretty much sums up the last three years of his Everton career, no self-belief, no confidence in his own ability. A confident player there and his first food of thought is shooting easily into the far corner.

Frankly speaking if he's not taking a shot on at Old Trafford with the goal in front of him to make himself a hero then he's never gonna shoot anywhere is he?

John Boon
36 Posted 03/10/2021 at 19:20:18
After a very much deserved point, which could easily have been three, I never feel inclined to be critical of any player. Sufficient to say that we played very well as a team.

The team was well organized and due credit to Benitez for making an Everton team that is watchable, and a far cry from the dross that was served up last season. This was particularly noticeable during the last 10 games when Ancelotti had completely lost interest in coaching Everton.

I just hope we can maintain this good start. The Man Utd game showed a team with spirit, energy and a desire to provide Everton fans with something to cheer about.

COYB – Let's keep this up.

Mal van Schaick
37 Posted 03/10/2021 at 20:32:51
Considering that we have bought some expensive lazy players over recent years, it is refreshing to see Gray and Townsend who are bargain basement players giving their all and doing what every player playing for Everton should do. Well done them.

Doucoure also have a great performance. Can’t fault the effort by all on a well earned point, that could of been three points.

Eamonn Long
38 Posted 03/10/2021 at 20:48:15
"Maybe we can all just collectively pretend that Gray cost £30+ million and Iwobi was only £1.7M?"

Brilliant Bill!

Still not comfortable calling him "Rafa", but this fella has been brilliant. He certainly has my respect, Mike.

David Pearl
39 Posted 03/10/2021 at 21:30:50
He's Nigerian, he only cost £30 million, and we think he's bang average, lwobo will leave on a freeeee.

I would like to add that it was quite nice to see Gordon whizz past their defender and put a first time cross in, without having to cut back on his other foot. It doesn't happen often. Even when Richy comes back we don't expect anything other than him cutting back onto his right foot. For the first time ever, l'm thinking Gordon has something to offer. Even if it is off the bench. 14 good first teamers with some oportunity for youth. That'll do.

Paul Kernot
40 Posted 03/10/2021 at 23:32:57
Sam #17. Unfoetunately, as we all know, there's one rule for the elite clubs & one for the rest. I just watched the shite v City game. 100% nailed on 2nd yellow for Milner when Foden skinned him for the umpteenth time. The ref did zilch.
Jamie Sweet
41 Posted 03/10/2021 at 23:35:17
To go to Old Trafford with a front four consisting of 2 thirty-something freebies, an academy player with less than 10 Premier League starts, and another lad we picked up for no more than a few week's of Ronaldo's wages, and come away knowing we could or should have won it, is quite something.

Credit to Mr Benitez for getting that level of performance out of that team. I'm certainly warming to the fella!

John Gorham
42 Posted 04/10/2021 at 01:50:56
The main take for me was that Rafa did not panic at HT and change too much, our second half performance was one of the best I seen from a depleted team( from injuries) in years. Let's not forget CR and Sancho were on for the last 30 minutes to no affect.
Nicholas Howard
43 Posted 04/10/2021 at 03:42:33
Mike (33)

Godfrey...if I'm not mistaken, he is left footed CB. That's could be the reason why he is struggling to adapt to RB as left side is his natural playing side.

Jim Potter
44 Posted 04/10/2021 at 09:01:55
I think the amount of respectful Rafa comments above show a mindset swing by Blues in general.

He has gained everyone's respect.

Maybe, affection would be too early a call for many - but by God, he's what we needed and is doing a terrific job.

Sod the possession stats; this team has fight, skill, togetherness and gets me excited.

He was offered zero transfer money and faced a huge uphill struggle to win over some pretty hateful attitudes.

Kudos Rafa.

You have restored my hope and belief.

It will take time, there will be defeats, but I can see the ingredients mixing nicely; the philosophy looks sound; the desire is obvious; there is fight and teamwork. And, when you get the chance to spend a Bob or two, we could be onto something.

Gracias por todo.

Kevin Prytherch
45 Posted 04/10/2021 at 09:39:32
Have to agree with most sentiments apart from one on this thread….

Keane and Mina are our best centre back pairing for games like this when we look to soak up pressure and hit on the counter. They’re both excellent defenders on the edge of our box.

They are not our best centre back pairing at home to the likes of Norwich when we should be looking to attack and box them in their own half. Keane especially shouldn’t be on the pitch for games like this.

I hope Benitez doesn’t follow a similar pattern of previous managers in thinking “it worked against Utd so it must work against everyone”. It doesn’t and it won’t.

Brian Harrison
46 Posted 04/10/2021 at 10:04:02
Kevin 45

I don't know if you were referring to my post were I said that Allan and Doucoure were our best midfield pairing and Keane and Mina were our best CB pairing. I think apart from Branthwaite who we havent seen much of the other alternatives of Holgate and Godfrey have been found wanting every time they are asked to play in that role. As I said in my post Godfrey isn't good enough in the air to play CB and his positional play leaves a lot to be desired, and Holgate has had numerous chances under different managers.

I know many criticize Keane for not being quick enough and he is slow to turn, but many CBs don't have great pace or aren't great on the turn, in fact our own great Brian Labone could be guilty of both of these faults but he was still one of the best CBs of his generation, same can be said for Jack Charlton. For me give me Keane and Mina any day of the week, given what our alternatives are. Both Ancelotti and Benitez seem to prefer this pairing and changing your CB pairing as you suggest is for me a recipe for disaster. Most teams who win trophies usually have a very settled back 4 unless you can tell me a team who changed their CB pairing and were succesful.

Kevin Prytherch
47 Posted 04/10/2021 at 12:01:15
Brian, I’d read it on a 2 or 3 posts so it wasn’t directly responding to you, just a general one.

I’d say that most successful teams don’t have a centre back with the limitations that Keane does (although I think he’s the best we have at defending deep) so the need to rotate them is less. I think that Ferguson was the master of squad rotation, he had 5 centre backs playing at least 10 games in his last title winning season and I think that Chelsea do it to some extent at the moment, but there are few examples out there.

I just feel that we will never truly dominate teams we should with the defence sitting as deep as it has to with Keane in the side. Although, even when Godfrey and Holgate have played together we still seem to defend deep, so maybe it’s a coaching or mentality thing.

Jim Bennings
48 Posted 04/10/2021 at 12:49:48
For all Michael Keane's deficiencies there's no way Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey should walk out as a central defensive partnership in a Blue shirt at Premier League level.

Godfrey is still too green defensively and Holgate has never been a mountain of a defender either, this is for me a partnership that must only be absolutely last resort.

Tony Abrahams
49 Posted 04/10/2021 at 13:19:47
Interesting what Darren Hind said on another thread about Mina constantly cajoling Keane, to get further up the pitch, and it definitely worked because Everton definitely defended higher on Saturday than they did in our previous away game at Aston Villa.

I don’t think that Mina would have to constantly cajole Godfrey to get higher up the pitch, but I don’t think Yerry Mina stays fit enough for long enough periods, and this might stop him developing into a very good central defender, this weakness.

Alan Rooney
50 Posted 04/10/2021 at 13:30:11
Brian #1,

Your experience reminded me of this Japser Carrot sketch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eedH28a4Fus

Nicolas Piñon
51 Posted 04/10/2021 at 14:14:31
Maybe play Godfrey at centre-back against counter-attacking teams at Goodison Park for his pace?
Mal van Schaick
52 Posted 04/10/2021 at 15:41:40
Agree with Jim#48. Only me personal opinion. Holgate, Davies, and Delph, are not good enough and should be shipped out and replaced with better quality players.

We need to spend big on a quality right full-back as a priority. Godfrey should be competing as a centre half ideally.

I was doubtful about Gordon, but he gave a gritty performance against Man Utd, so I would keep him as a squad player, he's improving.

Sanguan Anan
53 Posted 04/10/2021 at 18:48:55
I was feeling so let down by Davies. (I know it is not his fault.) Feeling a lot of stress for two days thinking what might have been. To release it out, I finally asked my son to play FIFA22 with me, telling him I need Tom to score.

I play Tom as a centre-forward for two matches. Believe it or not, Tom had 4 one-on-ones against my son's keeper. He hit straight to keeper twice, blasted it over the bar twice. At that time, I thought may be the real Tom made a good choice passing the ball to Mina!

At the last minute of the second match, Tom got a nice through-ball from James (yes, he is still in the squad), who I decided to bring on in the 80th minute, and finally Tom scored!

Now I can move on… It is midnight in Thailand. Good night everyone.

Graham Mockford
54 Posted 04/10/2021 at 18:56:48
Sanguan

It was sounding quite realistic until James was fit enough to play.

Robert Tressell
55 Posted 04/10/2021 at 19:32:39
As the Ancelotti season started, I felt like we had a manager who could take the club places provided we gave him the players. As the season wore on, it became clear that, although that might well be the case, he was not a great manager of average players.

That was a problem, because we had mostly very average players and only a few really good ones. It therefore required big money to overhaul the squad, bringing in the likes of Koulibaly, Rabiot, Bailey etc. Really it was only ever going to work with Ancelotti if we gave him the budget to make it work.

Benitez, I am pleased to say, is looking like a very good manager of limited players. I honestly don't think I've seen this level of hard work and togetherness since Moyes. Everyone is enjoying their football. Everyone seems to know their role – and how to affect games positively. It's really impressive. And I believe that Benitez can move us into a different gear with better players too.

I'm saying this in total confidence that there will be some bad results – but I am impressed.

Peter Warren
56 Posted 04/10/2021 at 19:58:56
I'm surprised by what seems to be Benitez's man-managements skills. He is certainly not a man to cross and I thought he'd be a cold fish to many players but the opposite seems true. He appears not just tactical but very tactile, which I'm pleased at.

There's going be downs but I can see already that a lack of dedication or knowledge certainly won't be his downfall. I feel very pleased to have him actually.

Tommy Carter
57 Posted 04/10/2021 at 20:13:44
Brian @46.

If Ben Godfrey isn't going to be our centre-back, then why did we sign him? He's surely been signed to become a starting centre-back.

I agree that he isn't the best in the air but his all-round game for such a young defender is already strong – plus he has a few outstanding attributes. Amazing pace and power and, most importantly, character, self-belief, arrogance and leadership.

He'll develop into a tremendous centre-back. The question will be to find the partner for him. That will need to be someone who compliments him and I would suggest someone capable of being dominant in the air. That should be Mina but, for such a huge guy, he's not as strong as he should be in the air.

I do think Mina and Godfrey should be the pairing we try and develop in the short to medium term though.

Tony Abrahams
58 Posted 04/10/2021 at 20:57:36
When I listen to Andros Townsend, the conclusion that I come to regarding Benitez, is that if a player is mature enough to understand him, then this manager will improve that player.
Steve Shave
59 Posted 04/10/2021 at 22:06:51
Tommy @57,

We already have that player you describe on the books in my view: step forward, Mr Branthwaite! He is still raw and needs 2 more years but he has it all, including pace.

Jerome Shields
60 Posted 05/10/2021 at 08:28:20
I can't understand the total change of fortune for Holgate on ToffeeWeb.

Holgate still has more pace than either Mina and Keane, with better distribution. It has taken longer than expected for him to rehabilitate after his injury last season, but he still has the capacity on full recovery to be better than Keane or Mina.

Mina has matured, cutting out the lapses of concentration that were a weak part of his game, so far this season, hence his improvement, but Keane tops him scoring opportunities. Both Mina and Keane are poor defending on the turn due to lack of pace.


Laurie Hartley
61 Posted 05/10/2021 at 11:50:13
David Pearl #39,

You are right about Gordon – you won't see many wingers get past Wan-Bissaka and cross with their left foot. He is only 20 and got a neck on him like a gorilla. He is going to be some player when he fills out.

Kim Vivian #19,

You are right about Rondon. He put in a real shift for us and kept their centre-halves very busy. As he gains match fitness, he will get better with the wide men we have.

As has been said above there will be competition for starting places when Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are fit.

We have got to keep Allan and Doucouré fit though. Doucouré has rightly received a lot of praise but that Allan is some footballer.

Jim Potter
62 Posted 05/10/2021 at 13:08:50
Sanguan #53, I commented earlier about how I thought our manager was doing well. I'm sorry, but I have to criticise you, our virtual manager, for your tactics. How the hell was James going to last a full 10 minutes?!

Naive my friend. Still, you've shown more imagination than some of our recent incumbents. I won't call you a taxi quite yet.

Jerome #60, I think Holgate at times in recent seasons has been superb, but whether it's a lack of confidence, an injury he's carrying, or just bad form - his distribution can be terrible. He is plainly a centre half and should never, in my opinion, be our right back. (Well, only if the tea lady's hamstring is shot).

I hope he rides this bad wave and comes back stronger.

Jerome Shields
63 Posted 05/10/2021 at 13:13:41
Jim#62

I agree and find your assessment fairer in it's analysis. As you say a lack of confidence or the residue of a injury has him below power. Hopefully he will get back to his best.

He is fair as a right back as a stand in covering Keanes weakness on the right that cost us goals last season. Godfrey is better , but a fully fit Seamus is the best , but is naturally a bit slower than he was. We all have known for seasons we need a replacement right back , Kenny not being it even after being lianed out to add to his game.

There will be games when Keane and Mina are not suitable and Benitez appears to have drummed in the necessity of a high defensive linee line.

Sanguan Anan
64 Posted 06/10/2021 at 06:31:33
Jim #62,

I had to tell James to stay forward, no tracking back. That was the trick. He lasted 10 mins.

Barry Jones
65 Posted 07/10/2021 at 00:13:14
I hope I am not premature with this statement, but Rafa Benitez is the manager that I feel we have needed for the last 10 years, and probably longer.

I love the way the team is playing and the mentality of the players. He is not prepared to carry anybody and that is the way it should be, especially to get harmony amongst the players. I hope that the James Rodriguez bleaters will now give it a rest.

Barry Jones
66 Posted 07/10/2021 at 00:16:46
More power to Andros Townsend too. What a player, what a guy. If everybody had his professional mentality and application, we would be top of the league.
Jerome Shields
67 Posted 07/10/2021 at 08:39:40
Benitez has countered Keane's weakness on the right by interchanging his position with Mina. This has taken pressure off the right-back role and cut out the dangerous linking runs into the box that Keane weakness allowed and the need to back track to cover them.

Mina according to reports on ToffeeWeb is the leader for pushing the defensive line forward, and was spotted by Darren (Tony #49). at the Man Utd game encouraging Keane to push up. This limits the space to run at forwards. It played Fernandes out of the Man Utd game. Mina may also have had a word in Fernandes's ear.

Benitez obviously knows Everton; organising Everton as the Traditional English football side they have always been. Everton are starting to look like the direct, relentless offensive attacking side of old.

Robert Tressell
68 Posted 07/10/2021 at 09:03:02
Jerome,

The best thing Benitez has done is install that relentless, direct style you refer to. It's a bit like the best of the Moyes era. Everyone understands their role and everyone is required to work hard in performing that role. There are no passengers or shirkers to accommodate and the team spirit looks really good as a consequence.

It's a shame Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison have been missing because this is right up their alley. And because we now have (for the first time in ages) a recognisable identity, it makes recruitment easier.

Any new recruit must, as a minimum, have the physical and mental attributes to play a direct and relentless style. Basically, if you want a step up in your career (or get your career back on track, like Gray) and you're willing to work hard, then Everton is the place to be.

Michael Williams
69 Posted 07/10/2021 at 13:22:40
Benitez gets Everton:

“We have to bring the balance between top-class players and the players that want to be here. They want to be here in the winter, when it is snowing and when it is cold, not just during the summer. Players who really have the passion and desire to fight for us. But they also need the quality to make a difference. It has to be players who will perform. Not just bringing in names.” The Guardian, 24 September 2021.


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