Everton go to Villa Park on Saturday night for a primetime Premier League fixture, and manager Rafa Benitez has been talking to the media during his pre-match press conference earlier today.
His tenure at the Toffees is off to a good start, what would he attribute this unbeaten run to?
“To have good players, and to have players who are motivated and committed. To have good staff and good people around you helping you to make the right decisions. We have talked about our fans at home, but also our fans away, the support from the fans and the connection with the players, all of these things together with a lot of people working hard behind the scenes makes you do things well.
“It’s still early, but at least we can enjoy this time.”
Already Benitez has shown that his flexibility with regards to formations is going to be necessary with the manager not hesitant to change tactics and personnel when things do not appear to be working in games.
“It’s always important to have an idea how you want to play, but there is a difference between tactics and systems. Systems is the formations - 5-4-1, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 - then you put the players on the pitch and how they do the work, how they press, how they play when you build from the back, all these things are tactics.
“It’s really important to have different ways to put the team on the pitch and if they understand what they have to do it can give you an advantage in some games. If you need to change something because it’s not working, it’s helpful, we could see that the other day [against Burnley].
“If you are doing well then maybe you don’t need to do much, but if the other team change and then you start having problems, the ability to adapt is really important. It depends on the players and it depends on my staff on how we work with the players during the week and give them the right messages so they understand what they have to do.”
Rafa has often talked about praising his players but ensuring he continues to push them by giving them areas to keep working on. Where did he see his side needing improvement?
“Everywhere. I don’t like to concede first, I don’t like to concede anyway [laughs]. We have to improve that, and I would like to score three goals. We had a couple of chances to score more like in the game against Leeds for example.
“Still we can improve in the transition, still we can improve in the attacking play. It’s just the beginning but we are moving forward in the right direction.”
Everton are off to a similar start to the season as they were last year under Carlo Ancelotti, and Benitez was asked if he was suited more to Everton in the sense that they are trying to get to the top versus a side already established where the Italian manager has had the most success.
“No, I will say that a manager has to adapt, depending on what you have. Whether it’s when I’ve been at Napoli, Inter, Real Madrid, Newcastle United or Tenerife, each club is different and then you can do it.
“When I was with Newcastle, we were promoted and everybody said ‘you are favourites’ and we did it. At Tenerife, we were promoted and we were not favourites. Then you have some teams that are quite strong and still you can win.
“Depending on the players you have, depending on the atmosphere, depending on the role of the chairman, sometimes he supports you or not, all these things can change.”
Benitez acknowledged that his position is pivotal and bore a lot of responsibility towards bringing all of it together.
“As a manager, a coach, you have to do your job, trying to improve your players, trying to create a good atmosphere, also with the fans. At Chelsea for example, we had the resources and then we did well.
“I think it is just different depending on the club but in this case I think because I know the city, I know what the Evertonians want and how they want their players to perform on the pitch, maybe it’s easier.
“The main thing for me is to come here and see a lot of players trying to do their best. Not players who were thinking ‘I’m very good’ or different characters who maybe don’t care. This group of players, they care, and they are working hard to try and improve every day.”
While Benitez acknowledged in his own words he was a somewhat controversial appointment for Everton manager, he also admitted he didn’t think he would win over everyone right away.
“It’s a question of emotions. It is very difficult to change people, but when you talk about being more rational and people that understand the game, and they can analyse what you are trying to do, I think the majority of these people, they know that we are doing well and we will try to do well until the end, even if we lose games, we will fight until the last minute of every game.
“Emotions are emotions so you cannot change someone if he doesn’t want to change but I will say again, the people who are more calm in making the analysis, they can see we are trying our best and they will be quite happy with that.”