What a difference a couple of new players and a new manager has made. This is still pretty much the same plodding Everton side that Carlo Ancelotti nursed over the finish line last season, struggling to get goals and looking for all the world more like a Sam Allardyce team fighting for Premier league survival than one attempting to qualify for Europe and led by one of the most storied managers in the game.
Yet, with just two signings for a sum total of £1.5 million over the summer, new manager Rafa Benitez has taken this bunch of misfits and turned them into a speedy counterattacking force that displays resolute determination in the face of adversity — aka ‘a spine’ — something the football club has been missing for some time.
There had been concerns that the fanbase wouldn’t take to the former Liverpool manager given some of the disparaging comments he had made about the Blues in the past. If he can continue to get his Everton side to play like they did in the win over Brighton, and possibly even better, then there should be no worries at all regarding his acceptance.
One of those two signings Demarai Gray has been lightning in a bottle since joining the Blues. He showed flashes of that torrid pace in the preseason tour of the United States, and since then has also showed that his finishing is pretty remarkable too, scoring almost identical goals against Leeds United and Brighton.
Speaking after the win today, Gray commended Benitez’ methodical approach in training for how well Everton have started the season with two wins and a draw in three league games, and through to the Round 3 of the Carabao Cup.
“It’s always good to get a win before the international break and it’s been a great start for us. With the players we’ve got, we’ve used everyone very well – the chemistry is good and I think over the season we are going to continue progressing.
“We train at a good tempo and it is very detailed. We feel comfortable [in our roles]. We have a good structure and that’s what the manager has drilled into us.”
At just 25, the winger knows he has a lot more to give the Blues, supported by the strong cast of players in the squad.
“For my goal, we defended well and then we countered. Running at speed and taking it on the outside makes it difficult for the defender. I did that and I’m happy to score.
“We’ve got speed up top. For me, it’s about being direct. We’ve got to score to win games and going forward we’re very dangerous.
“I’m very confident, with the attackers we’ve got, we will create chances and score goals.”
It’s not just the fans who have noticed how much of a bargain Gray has been, with his teammate and the second forward signed in the summer Andros Townsend remarking about the player’s meagre transfer fee.
“£1.5m in today’s market, we couldn’t believe it.”
That’s what we’re saying Andros, that’s we’re all saying.