Rafa Benitez is leading a renaissance of sorts in Merseyside with Everton as the Toffees continue to upset the odds by claiming 4th place in the league – level on points with Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool – ahead of the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
The Blues have maintained an unbeaten run in the Premier League across four gameweeks as they continue to exceed expectations in England and have been a revelation under the Spaniard who once managed their crosstown rivals Liverpool during his earlier stint in Merseyside.
With the Toffees scaling hitherto uncharted heights in the domestic league, FootTheBall takes a look at how all this came to be about at Goodison Park this season.
BENITEZ EXEMPLIFIES ‘ESPRIT DE CORPS’ PHILOSOPHY AT GOODISON PARK
When Rafa Benitez was unveiled as the manager of Everton this summer, it was met with a rather lukewarm reaction as the Everton faithful still associated him with Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in Istanbul in 2005
He has slowly but surely won their confidence by engineering an unbeaten run in the Premier League where he has utilised every player to the best of their ability and hasn’t been bothered by the lack of finances which would have hindered any other manager’s approach at the club.
Six years ago in August 2015 Benitez replaced Carlo Ancelotti in the dug out for Real Madrid, but it didn’t work out as he was shunned out in favour of Ancelotti’s former assistant Zinedine Zidane as early as January 2016.
The Spaniard once again became the successor to the Italian at Everton this summer, but the story this time around has been completely different as compared to his spell in the Spanish capital with Los Blancos.
Rafa Benitez has been able to successfully marshal his troops in Liverpool for the domestic league and has instilled the belief of teamwork being paramount if they are to continue to achieve the seemingly impossible on the domestic front.
OPTIMUM UTILISATION OF RESOURCES AT GOODISON PARK
This summer, during the frantic and unbelievable transfer window business that was taking place all over Europe, Everton only purchased one forward – Demarai Gray from Bayer Leverkusen (£1.7 million) – to bolster their squad.
On the other hand, they acquired the services of Andros Townsend on a free transfer from fellow Premier League club Crystal Palace.
And last night, Townsend scored a screamer as Everton came from behind to win against Burnley at Goodison Park and Demarai Gray also managed to get on the scoresheet for the Toffees.
The management style and approach of Rafa Benitez is reminiscent of Scottish manager David Moyes when he was managing the Merseyside club from 2002 to 2013, and the Spaniard has been able to win over the fans with the results until now as the Evertonians gradually warm up to the former Liverpool manager.
JAMES RODRIGUEZ’S FUTURE IN DOUBT AMIDST ANCELOTTI’S EXIT
James Rodriguez has a particular affinity for and an inherent understanding with Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Colombian first linked up with Ancelotti at Real Madrid in 2014 and was reunited with him during his spell at Bayern Munich in Germany before once again uniting with the Italian last year in Liverpool.
But, currently, he has been frozen out by Rafa Benitez after the departure of Ancelotti from Goodison Park this summer. Rodriguez was hailed as a marquee signing upon his arrival at Everton, with even New York’s Times Square acknowledging the Colombian’s move from Madrid to Merseyside last summer.
A year on from that move and James Rodriguez isn’t even in the squad for Everton, a marquee player felt to now be surplus to requirements in the wake of Carlo Ancelotti’s departure to Madrid (from where Rodriguez had initially arrived a year ago).
To make the case for Rafa Benitez, Everton are flying high in the Premier League even without the contribution of James Rodriguez even though they missed Dominic Calvert-Lewin after he injured his toe in training.
Nevertheless, Everton won comfortably against Burnley as Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray stepped up for the Blues after they had gone behind to Burnley early on in the second half.
BRIGHT PROSPECTS FOR EVERTON IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE AHEAD
Everton visit Aston Villa before they take on newly-promoted Norwich City at Goodison Park the week after that in the Premier League. The Toffees have had a fairly easy run in terms of the quality of opponents that they have faced until now in the English top-flight.
After the game against Norwich City, The Toffees will be visiting the Theatre of Dreams to face a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Manchester United with the Portuguese squaring off against his former manager (Rafa Benitez).
What Everton do against the top-quality sides will define their overall season and also determine where they finish in the league table after the conclusion of the entire 38 matchdays in England next May. For now, an Everton manager with legendary Liverpool ties couldn’t have asked for a much better start.