Toffees in trouble: Benitez’s Everton problems
A look at Rafa Benitez’s Everton
Everton have found themselves in dire straits of late as injury problems have combined with a poor run of form that has left Rafa Benitez staring down the barrel on Merseyside.
Having started the season by picking up 10 points from their first four games, the Toffees find themselves off the pace and recently suffering their heaviest home defeat in the Merseyside derby for 39 years.
Here we take a look at the problems facing Benitez and how he can turn around Everton’s fortunes.
The walking wounded
It was always going to be tough for Benitez to appease the blue side of Merseyside following his time in the Liverpool dugout, but Everton’s fast start to the season looked to have done the trick.
However, untimely injuries to key personnel has curtailed his plans and the Toffees have been left fielding scraps as the lack of depth in their squad has been exposed.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s nagging thigh issue continues to tease Benitez, while Richarlison has faced spells on the sidelines and also struggled without the England international by his side.
The Brazilian bagged his third goal of the season and first since October in the win over Arsenal and could have netted a hat-trick if playing in an era without VAR interference.
Benitez will be hopeful that is the boost the 24-year-old needs to start finding the scoresheet with regularity.
The Spaniard will also take heart from the return of Abdoulaye Doucoure to marshal the midfield and provide the crucial link between defence and attack.
Although bringing in wingers Demarai Gray (who could turn out to be the bargain of the summer) and Andros Townsend to inject some pace on the wing, Benitez’s first transfer window at Goodison Park was ultimately a disappointment.
At loggerheads throughout with now departed director of football Marcel Brands, they failed to secure a successor to Seamus Coleman in the right-back position.
The Everton scouting team had suggested Brands’ Dutch compatriot Denzel Dumfries as an option or Chelsea youngster Tino Livramento but Benitez wasn’t keen, preferring to search out tried and tested personnel.
By the time the transfer window shut, all Everton had spent was the £1.7million required to snare Gray from Bayer Leverkusen, with the rest of the summer arrivals all free transfers.
Show a little love
Benitez has never been one to go out of his way to offer an arm round the shoulder when the going gets tough. That is just not his style.
For Benitez football is a business and he is the metaphorical retail area manager, a man who delivers cracking training sessions and technical support, but doesn’t ask how the kids are getting on at school.
With morale on Merseyside at a low ebb, maybe now is the time for the Spaniard to let his guard down and add a little light to the shade. A trip to Megabowl for the Toffees could prove just the tonic as the season heads into a busy period.
Only two Premier League sides have conceded more goals from set-pieces than Everton this term, with injuries to key defensive personnel, including Yerry Mina, leaving the Toffees unorganised and without a plan.
An unsettled and ever-changing playing XI has struggled to adapt to how Benitez lines his side up against the dead ball and there has recently been a move to established members of the side taking on man-marking duties at set-plays.
Tactically past his best?
Benitez believes his squad does not possess the right players for a possession-based style and refuses to budge from his variation on a 4-4-2, which has been easily picked apart by the modern high-pressing sides.
Some would say it is a credit to his side that they have not been completely overwhelmed so far this season, but attempts to push up from two rigid lines of four into a 4-2-3-1 have easily been negated by Everton’s opponents and have nullified the influence Benitez’s chosen wide men have had on a game.
It has also made them susceptible to the underlap that Liverpool used so well when embarrassing the Toffees 4-1 at Goodison last month.
Calvert-Lewin’s return could prove crucial to Everton’s tactical revival with Benitez sure to have more control over effectively operating a 4-2-3-1 with their talisman in the side.
The 24-year-old can provide that bit of jeopardy for the opposition that is currently lacking when matching up against Everton.
With the free-scoring forward keeping the defence occupied, it could allow Gray and Townsend to impact matches in a way they did earlier in the season, with Doucoure also allowed to flourish once again in the box-to-box role he thrived in prior to his injury.
Goals (a lack of them)
Having scored 10 goals in their first four Premier League games, only nine more have followed in their next 11, with the Toffees scoring only one goal throughout the whole of November.
With little going on in the attacking third the collateral damage is a busy 90 minutes for the Toffees’ backline, as well as Jordan Pickford between the sticks.
Calvert-Lewin had three from three games before injury struck to further establish himself as one of the leading strikers in the top flight and it is true what they say, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Well on his way to bettering last season’s total of 16, the England international’s absence has hit Everton hard.
Since he’s been missing Everton have regularly called upon Salomon Rondon, who is yet to find the scoresheet this term, while Townsend has often been dragged away from the wing to play as a second striker, a move that has limited his effectiveness.
The return of Calvert-Lewin looks essential if Benitez is to survive the season. Everton have won 59 of the 150 games the 24-year-old has taken part in for the Toffees and with his goals per game average going from a career figure of 0.29 to 0.516 last season, his influence is only heading in the right direction.
Believe in Gray
Former Leicester winger Gray is looking like one of the shrewdest purchases of the season and has been one of the few bright sparks of Everton’s season to date.
Having struggled to make an impact in the Bundesliga, he has quickly asserted himself on Merseyside, proving an ever-present threat from the left side.
His winner against Arsenal was his fifth of the season and having linked up expertly with Calvert-Lewin before injury hit, Gray will be relishing the chance to rekindle the partnership as we head into the new year.
He could prove to be Everton’s great white hope and could be the man that drags Benitez’s men out of the doldrums.
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