Rafael Benitez says the warm reception given to him by the Everton fans “means a lot” after Saturday’s season-opening win against Southampton.
Benitez’s Liverpool connections mean he is the most controversial managerial appointment in the club’s history - to the extent that messages of abuse were left near his home before he even got the job.
That raised fears he would be jeered when he took to the dugout at Goodison Park for the first time on Saturday.
Those fears were not realised, with Benitez instead afforded a warm reception before kick-off.
There were a few moans and groans at half-time after a shaky opening 45 minutes left the Toffees 1-0 down, but a stirring second half comeback saw Goodison restored to its usual raucous self, with goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sparking scenes of bedlam not seen in the Grand Old Lady for 17 months.
Asked about the support the fans gave himself and the team, Benitez said:
“The feeling was really good from the beginning, the reception from the fans for me and the players.
“It means a lot.
“It means they appreciate I will try to do my best and if we can give more performances like this one, they will be happy during the season.
“Without the fans, it is more difficult to be consistent in the way you want to do things and play,.
“This year, the fans are behind us and the players know what the fans are expecting from them.
“We showed everything we want to see, the players running from the first minute until the last minute.
“And the reaction from the players… sometimes when you concede, you put your head down and it is more difficult.
“But the reaction on the pitch was positive, with the fans behind the team.
“The players showed character, so everything was positive.”
All 3 of Everton's goals against Southampton were scored in the second half - as many second half goals as they scored in their previous 16 home league games combined. #EFC— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) August 16, 2021
The excellent EFC Statto account on Twitter came up with a corker on Monday, revealing that Everton scored as many second half goals against Southampton (3) as they had done in their previous 16 home game combined. It was also the first time Everton had fought back from being behind at half-time to win since September 2015.
Benitez says he wants his side to be more dynamic and attacking this campaign, challenging his midfielders and defenders to share the goalscoring burden after an over-reliance on the forward players last term.
“We have been working on that [adding goals] with the midfielders.
“We know last season, the strikers were scoring goals, the rest of the team not so many.
“The wingers have to score, even the defenders, we know at set-pieces they can score goals.
“But the midfielders have to score goals and I am happy Doucoure scored because it gives me the chance to challenge him and the other midfielders to score more.”
Benitez also revealed it was a straightforward decision to name Seamus Coleman has his club captain this season.
Though his skills are on the wane, Coleman’s leadership and influence is not in doubt - and he certainly rolled back the years with a long-busting performance in Saturday.
Speaking about the Irishman, Benitez said:
“Yes [he is captain this season], it is not an issue, he is a great captain and great player.”