Everton had to summon up a defensive performance unlike many others they have managed this season to come away with a draw against Chelsea last night. Despite being shorn of over half the regular starters, the Blues rode a combination of luck, discipline, effort and awful finishing from the hosts to earn a point that sees the Toffees stay in 14th in the Premier League table.
Speaking after the game, manager Rafa Benitez talked about the impact made fringe players like Jarrad Branthwaite, Jonjoe Kenny and their fellow youngster Ellis Simms who made his senior team debut with the start at Stamford Bridge.
“The gameplan is always there and it depends on the players. The players, fans all together, the spirit of the Blues as they say, the issues with senior players not available, so we needed spirit, commitment and intensity against a good team. I am really pleased and it is a good point.
“We were practicing the set-pieces and Jarrad Branthwaite did well. Jonjoe Kenny was working so hard and everyone was giving everything. We suffered a bit more today so against a good team we did what we had to do.
“Every single player on the pitch was 100 per cent making a contribution for the gameplan. At the end everyone was delighted. When players are not playing, the rest of the team are happy for them too.
“Great character was shown, we are coming back in a lot of games. The way they worked we deserved something. We have had too much bad luck with injuries. The reaction of the team was fantastic.”
The veteran manager was pleased with how his side had dug deep with the hosts managing over 80% of ball possession and generating over twenty shots in the process, and was asked if this was his most significant result since taking over at the Blues.
“You can say that, because we have so many issues, with injuries, with illness.
“The way the team played, reacted when we conceded, showed character. It’s a great point, not just the point but the way we claimed it. Everyone realised how important and how difficult it was afterwards.”
Branthwaite was making his first league start of the season playing on the left side of a three-centrehalf formation, and while he endured some rocky moments early on with the hosts slicing in between him and Ben Godfrey, he grew into the game and made his most telling contribution late on by stabbing home the Toffees’ equalizer from a freekick soon after Chelsea had scored the opener.
The manager indicated that with COVID concerns growing, the club might change their minds about sending him out on loan in the January transfer window.
“At the beginning, when I was thinking about him, I saw a young player who could train with us and be coached by us and he could improve, I wanted to see him and he was training really well.
“I had the conversation with my staff and over the last two weeks he has been training really well so you can see he is improving and progressing. You want to keep players with us if you think they can improve.
“Ok, we will see now and also with COVID around we have to be very careful, like today. We had 10-12 players unavailable. It was really important to see the young players doing well.”