Ah, the EFL Cup. A source of perpetual disappointment for Evertonians.
Be it Coca-Cola, Worthington’s, Carling or Carabao, The Toffees just cannot seem to quench their thirst in this competition, finishing runners-up twice and reaching the semi-final three times, with a litany of humiliations thrown in-between.
They have reached the quarter-finals for the past two seasons, bowing out to Leicester and Manchester United, which should be considered respectable given the likes of Oxford, Bristol Rovers Millwall and York have dumped the Toffees out in the past.
So what of this season under Rafa’s revolution?
Four points from two Premier League games so far represents a solid start and the impact of the new manager is starting to be felt.
Saturday’s game at Leeds was everything you want in a Premier League match. A loud, boisterous crowd, a breathless pace, crunching tackles and moments of skill and genius.
Everton certainly had their chances to win the game, but a draw should be considered a good result given the circumstances – it was Leeds’ first Premier League game in front of a home crowd for 17 years, while the Everton squad is far from complete as Benitez looks to do some late window shopping.
Tuesday’s trip to Huddersfield is also likely to afford him the chance to give squad members a run-out. The disjointed pre-season means some players are undercooked, while others are overworked. The manager should then have a decent idea about who he wants to keep, who he wants to sell, and who he wants to bring in.
Whether he will be able to achieve all those ambitions before next week’s deadline is another question entirely.
It has been an eventful few years since Everton last met Huddersfield in the Premier League in January 2019.
That game was Jan Siewert’s first in charge after succeeding David Wagner, but he left seven months later after failing to keep the Terriers in the top flight.
Danny Cowley came in but he was dismissed before the rescheduled season was over in July 2020 as the Yorkshire club could only finish 18th. Former Leeds coach Carlos Corberan was his replacement, but he could only guide the club to a 20th-place finish.
(For balance: Everton have had Marco Silva, Duncan Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti and now Benitez in their dugout since)
They are not the first and will not be the last side to struggle after relegation from the Premier League. The churn of players and managers combined with a severe drop in TV money takes some adjusting to.
Like many clubs Huddersfield’s finances suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, while they also continue to repay a £45m debt to former chairman Dean Hoyle, who sold the club to Phil Hodgkinson in 2019.
They have made an inconsistent start to this campaign, squeezing past Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in the last round of the Carabao Cup before taking one points from their opening two league games. They have, however, won their last two, including scoring a 90th-minute winner at Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United on Saturday, which I imagine went down well among the supporters.
This will be the third time to two sides have met in the league Cup, all in the second round. Everton won 3-2 over two legs in 1998-99 before thrashing Town 5-1 at Goodison in 2010-11.
Richarlison’s third-minute strike was enough to earn Everton a battling 1-0 victory over Huddersfield in January 2019, despite Lucas Digne being sent off midway through the second half.
Benitez is expected to make a number of changes for the tie. Asmir Begovic could make his debut in goal, while the likes of Jarrad Branthwaite, Jonjoe Kenny, Fabian Delph, Tom Davies and Jean-Philippe Gbamin could be given a run out.
What They Said
Huddersfield manager Carlos Corberan: “It means a lot, he’s one of the best coaches in the world. I am from Valencia, and his first title and his first important impact in his career as a coach was with Valencia, winning the league with a team that was not the favourite to do it, it was his first top-level achievement.
“He was then coaching at the highest level in the Champions League and UEFA Cup doing amazing work.”
Everton manager Rafa Benitez: “I would like to go through, I would like to play a strong team and compete and go through – yes, I would like to do that. Can I do it? We will have to wait, because we have to see if we have any knocks, injuries or any problems.
“I don’t want to lie - I said so many times. It depends on the squad, it depends on the situation [what team I will be able to select]. Obviously, when we play games with this intensity, we have to take that into account.”
Everton are expected to win and should do so if they play to their potential, but with changes expected there is a degree of uncertainty going into this one.
Huddersfield are not exactly flying, but the chance to impress against top flight opposition should be more than enough motivation.
This is a case of simply trying to get the job done without any injuries, allowing Benitez and his staff time to concentrate on next weekend’s trip to Brighton and the looming transfer deadline.