MARTIN KEOWN: How Benitez's Everton can be party poopers against Leeds

MARTIN KEOWN: Rafa Benitez has got Everton up and running rapidly despite fan backlash… the Spaniard’s attacking Toffees team could pick-apart Leeds’ vulnerable defence

  • Everton face Leeds United at Elland Road on Saturday in the Premier League 
  • The Toffees made a strong start with unpopular manager Rafa Benitez last week
  • They beat Southampton 3-1, while Leeds were smashed 5-1 by Man United 
  • Marcelo Bielsa’s defence play a risky game and Benitez’s side could hurt them  

Many Everton fans were unhappy when Rafa Benitez was appointed but on the evidence of his first game, this could be a perfect marriage.

At this time of his career, he needs Everton as much as they need him. He set the team up to attack, was kicking every ball and didn’t panic when they went 1-0 down.

He set up with Richarlison on the left, Andros Townsend on the right and Demarai Gray central in a floating role. Benitez pushed his full backs high, played with lots of width and instructed Gray, Townsend and Richarlison to get crosses in. They made 17, testing the defence from all angles.

Everton have got up-and-running quickly with Rafa Benitez despite facing backlash from fans 

The ex-Liverpool manager steered his team to a 3-1 win over Southampton, facing Leeds next

It’s time for Richarlison to come of age. He and Dominic Calvert-Lewin could be quite a formidable duo. Calvert-Lewin is playing with a smile on his face — he will have been licking his lips seeing all the crosses coming in.

The young centre backs, Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate, will also really benefit from working with Benitez. At times last year, particularly against pace, they didn’t know whether to come off to feet with an opponent or hold their position and pick off a runner into the channel.

For Everton fans, it feels like they’ve got their team back. They’re playing with much more purpose and direction.

Benitez has got them up and running quickly. On Saturday they play at Elland Road, which will be at full capacity for a Premier League match for the first time in 17 years. 

Bruno Fernandes tore through Leeds’ defence to score a hat-trick, highlighting vulnerabilities 

Marcelo Bielsa must solve the Whites’ defensive weaknesses quickly to get them back on track

There’s no danger of Marcelo Bielsa falling asleep on the touchline, his side are the great entertainers and flood players around the ball. Every game is frantic, there’s a high press and a focus on man-to-man marking. 

But as Manchester United showed, there is a way through. Leeds’ man-to-man approach makes it very difficult for their players to offer cover if one of them is pulled out of position.

For the first goal, keeper Illan Meslier gave the ball away and Bruno Fernandes ran straight into a gap between the centre backs, neither of whom had tracked him. 

A team is only as strong as its weakest link and if one player isn’t up to the challenge of man-marking or does not have the necessary pace, the whole system can fall apart. 

Bielsa needs to resolve that vulnerability when transitioning from attack to defence, or his side will be wide open to counter-attacks and teams will pick them apart.

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