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What Everton’s youngsters will need to do to impress Benitez

The manager has set the bar for what he expects from the club’s Academy graduates

Everton Pre-Season Training Session
Tom Davies and Anthony Gordon
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

While Everton have long been known for their vaunted Academy system, the Blues have definitely not had enough youngsters breaking through and supplementing the first team squad over the last decade or so. Some of the youngest and brightest talents on the team right now are all products of other team academies, starting with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ben Godfrey and Jarrad Branthwaite.

The only Academy products that are on the current first team squad are Tom Davies, Jonjoe Kenny and Anthony Gordon, and none of them have shown enough yet to stake a claim in Everton’s best XI on a week-to-week basis.

Speaking to evertontv recently, manager Rafa Benitez acknowledged that in this era of financial jurisprudence, there has never been a better time for the more youngsters to stake their claim in his squad, He added that he wouldn’t necessarily go seeking out the prospects and that they needed to assert themselves and come to him saying they’re ready.

“It is crucial for every single club, now and in the future, to have players coming from the academy.

“It is not for the first-team manager to bring players, they [players] have to be sure they are ready, they have to knock on your door and say, ‘Listen, I am ready’.

“The Premier League is very competitive and the level of the players is very high. That means it is more difficult for young players to come through. But our job is to improve them in the academy and give them the chance to play for the First Team, if they are ready.

“It is massive for the Club to have players coming from the Academy, especially with the prices in the market now. But, also, because of the commitment of those players, the passion they have, the connection with the fans and the community.”

Everton have played three Premier League games so far with the manager using 13 players in total in those fixtures, though he did make nine changes in his starting lineup for the Carabao Cup clash against Huddersfield Town.

Benitez admitted he wanted to give the kids more opportunities but also advised against making too many changes early in the season when he was still trying to develop chemistry between the players in the first team.

“You have to find a balance in the number of players you are rotating. Also, it depends on the players. There are players who, when they are not playing, still train really hard and try to learn the way you want to play – they can play and be ready.

“For others, it is more difficult [to manage being out of the team]. You need to identify these kinds of players and pick the right number in terms of rotation.

“If you rotate players and win, everybody will say, ‘Great’, because it is a bigger squad and everybody is involved. If you lose, ‘Wrong decision, you picked the wrong players’.

“We will change something if we have to, but, at the same time, always try to ensure we are putting on the pitch a team that can win.”

The 61-year-old manager shot to fame while managing Valencia early on in his career, and has often been commended for his work with balancing a 25-man squad that had domestic and European football to contend with and gaining success as well with two La Liga triumphs as well as a UEFA Cup trophy in the three years he spent there.

“The rotation system was good for us at Valencia because we were working with all the team together, so everybody knew their roles.

“I remember, I changed seven players in one game and we lost, so I received the blame – but that is part of football.

“You have a big picture, a big plan, to be sure everybody can be involved. But, if you have to change, and pick players who are, maybe, not ready, you are making a mistake.”

It certainly sounds like Benitez might be more amenable towards giving game time to players like Davies and Gordon than previous manager Carlo Ancelotti, but it will also be on the youngsters to show him what he’s missing right now in training and when they do get to play, whether it’s in rotated Cup squads or late on as a substitute in the league games.