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Everton Roundtable: The Rafa Benitez era

A discussion of how the Benitez era at the Toffees’ is coming along


The second international break could not have come at a better time for Everton, hurting as they are from injuries over the last few weeks. The fortnight will allow up to half a dozen regain fitness even as the playing squad takes the time to catch their breath.

Between the first and second breaks, the Blues started a mini-slide with their first two losses of the season, before bouncing back with a win and then coming from behind to draw at Old Trafford too.

Everton currently sit in fifth place after seven games, amongst a clutch of teams. The Toffees are only two points off Chelsea at the top of the table, and four clear of tenth place. The crew here at RBM got together to discuss some early season thoughts; the roundtable is broken into two parts, looking at the team’s performances yesterday and the manager Rafa Benitez today.

What is Everton’s best starting lineup and formation (with everyone fit)?

Pat: 4-2-3-1; ST - Calvert-Lewin, LM - Richy CAM - Gray RM - Townsend, CDM - Doucoure CDM - Allan, LB - Digne CB - Godfrey - CB - Mina - RB - Coleman, GK - Pickford

Kevin: 4-2-3-1. Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Doucoure, Allan; Townsend, Gray, Richarlison; DCL.

Trent: I like a 4-2-3-1 if possible, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin up top; Richarlison playing behind him, with Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend to either side of him; Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure next, in front Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina, Ben Godfrey and Captain Seamus Coleman, with Jordan Pickford in goal.

Geoff: A 4 2 3 1 formation, Pickford - Coleman Mina Keane Godfrey - Doucoure Allan - Townsend Gray Richarlison - DCL. Yes, I’d prefer Godfrey at leftback where he excelled last season. Too many crosses come in when Digne is at leftback.

Ian: 4-2-3-1: Pickford; Digne, Keane, Godfrey, Coleman; Doucouré, Allan; Gray, Richy, Townsend; DCL

TacticallyEv: 4-4-2: Pickford; Coleman - Godfrey - Mina - Digne; Townsend - Allan - Doucoure - Gray; Richarlison - DCL

Pete: 4-2-3-1: Pickford; Coleman Mina Godfrey Digne; Allan Doucoure; Townsend Gray Richarlison; DCL

Geno: I think it has to be a 4-4-2. I think DCL and Richie are at their best in a front two, having only two central midfielders gives both Doucoure and Allan the license to do what they have been doing all year. Then, you have Gray and Allan manning the flanks and the back four with Coleman, Mina, Godfrey and Digne.

Calvin: 4-4-2 for me. Pickford in goal, Digne, Godfrey, Mina and Coleman in front of him. Allan and Doucoure in the middle with Gray and Townsend out wide, and Richarlison with Calvert-Lewin up top.

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

What needs to change after this international break?

Pat: No more sliding tackles in training!

Kevin: No change. Just keep doing the right things and paying attention to Sr. Benitez, troops!

Trent: The team has to regain some health and continue working on themselves, it is as simple as that. There is a long way to go until the January transfer window, which Everton under Marcel Brands are notoriously hesitant during, and so Rafa will have to focus on getting the most out of his team, regardless of anything.

Geoff: Just our luck with injuries.

Ian: Something the team can’t control: Health. Something that the team can control: Possession. We’ve only led in possession statistics in two games...

TacticallyEv: We’ve conceded first in 4 out of 7 of our league games so far. Although we’ve gained points from 3 of them, it would be nice to see us be in the ascendancy for the whole ninety minutes.

Pete: Not so much what we need to change, but we need Richie and DCL back ASAP. Salomon Rondon is nowhere near at the level we need to lead the line.

Geno: Is injury luck an option? I mean that has been the biggest deterrent for Everton this season. They haven’t had the ability to play the way they have wanted due to injuries and they still have gotten results. Only other thing I can think of is maybe scoring first more and holding a lead.

Calvin: Is counterattacking football the only way Rafa is planning to play this season? Even against bottom teams? Last international break the manager worked on a three-man backline, wonder if a more possession-based game is being tried out this time around.

Everton v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

What was your feeling on the Rafa Benitez appointment and has it changed?

Pat: I was a bitter Blue when it came to appointing Rafa. However, he has definitely made me eat my words so far.

Kevin: Never had a problem with it. Like he says, he will always fight for his team. That’s us, now and he’s true to his word.

Trent: I was skeptical at first, but I quickly came around. The way that Everton are playing and scrapping feels pretty much like what I expected from him, but his attention to detail is a noticeable difference in this years Toffees in juxtaposition to the team that gave us some hope last year.

Geoff: My feeling about Rafa has changed. I thought his methods might be too defensive and old school, nothing at all to do with Reds connection. Whilst he is not an innovator he is a pragmatist and reader of the game and can alter tactics much better than Ancelotti, really impressed.

Ian: I think he’s doing a commendable job at the helm. The results have certainly been promising, but the Toffees have faced a favorable schedule to start the season.

TacticallyEv: I didn’t agree with it and thought the club were so out of touch with the fans with the decision. Now, it’s turned out to be a fantastic appointment. Rafa wants to be at the club and I don’t believe the previous manager did.

Pete: I didn’t want him. Felt like his time had gone and the Liverpool connection was an unnecessary complication. However, I’ve been really impressed with him so far – it seems like he’s actually watched and studied the team for years and has brought about instant solutions (namely a left-footed winger in Townsend, a dynamic attacking midfielder in Gray and move the ball forward much quicker).

Geno: As an American who started watching soccer after the worst Rafa years at Liverpool I won’t lie, the Rafa appointment didn’t bother me as much as it understandably did for some over in England, but I did have some questions. So far, he has answered all of them, proving to be a solid tactician and getting this team back to a place and a style of play that we as Evertonians like. What more could you ask for at the moment?

Calvin: I wasn’t thrilled by the appointment for two reasons - the obvious being his previous comments about Everton as a club, but also because like Ancelotti, I thought he and his methods were dated. Turns out, his reading of the game has not been affected at all by his time in China.

Everton Unveil New Manager Rafael Benitez

What is different about Everton under Benitez (if anything)?

Pat: I feel like there’s more accountability and maturity. Rafa tells the players what they need to hear without sugarcoating anything.

Kevin: Three things: fitness, organization, belief. The players are playing with no fear and most are pushing their limits. Doucoure is a transformed man, for example.

Trent: The confidence that the entire team possesses on and off the ball is noticeable. Second half adjustments are usually noticeable now as well, and scoring is taking place from so many players; taking that pressure off of DCL and Richy are good ways to keep them happy while the team continues to develop and improve.

Geoff: The team is noticeably fitter, the training is more intense, they play as a team and Doucoure no longer shoveling up after James Rodriguez so he is able to look after his own game.

Ian: I feel like the buy-in from the players is better than it has been in the past. Rafa seems to be communicating his goals to the team clearly, and I think that has earned him the squad’s respect.

TacticallyEv: I think the two key points are fitness and organisation. Every single player seems to understand their role and is giving 100% for the whole ninety minutes.

Pete: We have a balanced team that moves the ball forward quickly! Since the Martinez era we’ve been dawdling in possession far too much, enabling teams to get players behind the ball and scoff at us as we hopelessly try to break them down. Now when we get the ball, we’re looking to play the ball through the lines quickly whenever we can. It’s something I’m really enjoying to see.

Geno: Grit, structure, intensity. As I said in the previous question, this team, for maybe the first time since Moyes, looks like they never quit and you have faith that they will give 100% for the badge each and every game. It’s something we have really missed in recent years and I am beyond happy to have it back.

Calvin: Tenacity. The Blues seem like they grew a spine over the summer, because even under adversity it still feels like we’re never really out of the game. It’s hard to believe that this is pretty much the same team that wilted like week-old lettuce last season.

Chime in below in the comments section with your thoughts on these questions too -

1. What is Everton’s best starting lineup and formation (with everyone fit)?
2. What needs to change after this international break?
3. What was your feeling on the Rafa Benitez appointment and has it changed?
4. What is different about Everton under Benitez (if anything)?