Boring Rafa? No way! Everton fans are warming to new manager Benitez after another goalfest in draw against Leeds that continues unbeaten start for the Spanish boss who has crossed the Merseyside divide
- Everton entertained fans in their 2-2 Premier League draw at Leeds on Saturday
- Rafa Benitez does not deserve to be known as a defensive boss on this evidence
- The Spaniard felt his side should have won after going ahead for a second time
- Not all supporters were keen when ex-Liverpool boss Benitez joined the Toffees
This was not in the script. When Everton appointed Rafael Benitez, fans thought they were getting a boring, defensive manager.
Instead, they’ve got a team who appear balanced, fluid and exciting to watch. They only managed a draw at a raucous Elland Road on Saturday but should have gone home with all three points — and would have done if Dominic Calvert-Lewin had brought his shooting boots.
He opened the scoring but squandered two big opportunities in the second half that would have put the game to bed. Leeds instead came from behind for a second time thanks to a thunderous strike from Raphinha.
Everton entertained as they earned a 2-2 draw at Leeds in the Premier League on Saturday
New boss Rafael Benitez (right) appears to be on his way to winning critical supporters over
Of course, the incorrectly-assigned tag of ‘defensive manager’ which Benitez acquired at Newcastle is not the reason Everton fans didn’t rush to welcome his return to Merseyside.
The chief problem was the fact he became the first boss since William Edward Barclay in the 1890s to cross the city divide and manage both teams in Liverpool.
He is still eulogised across Stanley Park as the man who brought Liverpool their long-awaited European Cup No 5. Everton fans were quick to hang banners in protest of his appointment, one of which read: ‘We know where you live, do not sign’.
It also didn’t help that the shoes he was charged to fill were sizable: ‘Don Carlo’ Ancelotti, who was idolised by the fanbase.
LEEDS (4-1-4-1): Meslier 7.5; Ayling 6, Struijk 4.5, Cooper 5, Firpo 6.5 (Shackleton 60, 6); Phillips 7; Dallas 6, Klich 7 (Roberts 60, 6), Raphinha 7, Harrison 6.5; Bamford 7.5.
Booked: Cooper, Bamford.
Scorers: Klich 41, Raphinha 72.
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa 6.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Pickford 6; Coleman 6, Mina 7, Keane 6.5, Digne 7; Doucoure 7, Allan 6.5; Iwobi 7 (Townsend 74, 6), Richarlison 7, Gray 8 (Delph 84); Calvert-Lewin 7 (Kean 90).
Booked: Mina, Digne, Coleman, Doucoure.
Scorers: Calvert-Lewin 30 pen, Gray 50.
Manager: Rafael Benitez 7.
Referee: Darren England 7.
Everton lost a manager who was their biggest appointment in recent decades and replaced him with one seen as yesterday’s man.
But after coming from behind to beat Southampton last weekend, Benitez’s men put on a display that will give Everton fans plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
It would be a stretch to say those supporters are falling for the charm of Benitez, but their heads are certainly being turned and they are warming to the idea.
‘We reacted well [to Leeds’ atmosphere] and created chances, we should have put the game away at 2-1,’ said Benitez.
He is correct. Results and points on the board are worth much more than performances but the signs are promising.
New signing Demarai Gray was their star man. Signed from Bayer Leverkusen for less than £2million, the former Leicester winger has often struggled for consistency.
Indeed, before Saturday, he had not scored a goal for over a year. The smile on his face when celebrating told a story, though he did become a laughing stock seconds later for his botched knee slide in front of a jubilant away end.
His goal was taken well with a tidy finish, after he made space with a terrible first touch that fooled Stuart Dallas.
More pleasing was his desire to run at defenders and cause problems, while he — along with Alex Iwobi on the other flank — bombarded the Leeds box with crosses.
Calvert-Lewin was unlucky not to get on the end of a number of them. He is not fully fit, and Everton’s other forward Richarlison played 59 matches last season in a world tour which culminated in a Copa America final then an Olympic gold for Brazil.
If both were in top condition, the story might have been different and Everton might have started the season with back-to-back wins.
Toffees fans who had thought Benitez would be a defensive tactician have been in for a treat
The positive thing is that they created chances, with Iwobi also looking in good shape. He is another who, like Gray, burst onto the scene as a teenager but failed to progress.
It’s hard to coach consistency but Benitez can get the best out of a team who have been guilty of playing a team off the park one week and not turning up the next. He is starting to do that.
Calvert-Lewin will benefit from new ideas — Benitez is his seventh boss at Everton. There are plenty to return, such as Ben Godfrey, who will solidify the defence. Everton fans are not quite singing Benitez’s name yet, but it is certainly on the tips of their tongues.
Everton have had a £5m bid rejected for Rangers’ Nathan Patterson, 19. The Scottish champions value the right back at more than double that.
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