Rafa BenÝtez: Press Conference before Aston Villa

16/09/2021evertonfc.com

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It’s been pretty much a perfect start?

I will not say perfect because we drew against Leeds but very close to perfection, yes! It’s not easy when you change manager at the beginning of the season. To expect the team to do so well – the connection between players, fans – but we are really pleased with everything and hopefully we can continue this way. We know that it’s the beginning of the season and it’s not easy to keep this momentum but we will try to do it.

Ability to come from behind is something Everton have lacked in recent seasons. What are you doing differently?

You have to give credit to the players and, to be fair, to the fans. I want to point out that the other day in the first half, we were not doing well and the fans were expecting a reaction so they were patient and they knew that the team would try to do something. We did it in the second half – you say the atmosphere was electric – and thanks to that and the belief and commitment of the players and the connection with the fans, we could do it twice. Hopefully we don’t need to do it every time but I’m happy between the connection of the fans and the players because we want to be a very strong team at home.

Was football under floodlights at Goodison exactly how you anticipated it to be?

The fans have been supportive from day one and they are appreciative that we try to do our best. We have to give our best to be sure we make people happy. The way to do it is to play well and win games.

You won the game without Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Is there any update on how he is?

It’s what I said after the game. We have to wait some weeks. We don’t know exactly how many but he will be unavailable for two to three weeks.

And what is the situation with James Rodriguez?

He is training. These kind of weeks when you play a game and have a day off in between is not easy (to see how fit he is). We will see tomorrow in another training session but he is training normally with the team.

Is the impact of Townsend and Gray purely down to belief? Have you instilled that into them?

I will tell you about the three goals we scored. Michael Keane was doing really well and, because of the pressure we had in the first three games, I was really pleased with him. It was a great goal, a great cross, great header. Really pleased for his confidence, too, and it’s exactly the same for Demarai and Andros. Both players have come here with the desire to do well. They were really hungry to show everyone how good they are and they are doing that. More than just playing well and scoring goals, they are working really hard in training sessions. I think the rest of the players appreciate that, not just the level they are playing at but the commitment also.

Aston Villa on Saturday. Everton’s away form has been really good in recent times. What are you expecting?

I think they proved against Chelsea the other day that, for a while, they were very dangerous. It’s a team that’s invested money in good players. The manager is doing a good job so it will be a tough game because they are an attacking team. We have to be strong and make sure we are good enough in defence but that we can score goals and also keep the same mentality, so don’t give up until the end of the game.


Everton are unbeaten since you became manager. What is your assessment of the overall work of you and your players?

There are a lot of things that mean you do well. The first is that you have good players who are motivated and committed. To have good staff, people around you who help you to make the right decisions. And our fans home and away, their support and connection with the players. All these things together with a lot of people working hard behind the scenes make you do things well. It’s too early but we can enjoy it at this time.

Against Burnley you changed your formation to a 4-3-3. Does that ability to adapt help?

It’s always important to have an idea how you want to play but it’s totally different to systems. Systems and tactics are different. Systems is the formation – 5-4-1, 4-3-3, 4-4-2. Then you put the players on the pitch but it’s how they do the work, how they press, how they play when you have to build from the back. All these things are tactics and then, as you say, it’s really important to have different ways to put the team on the pitch and, if they understand what you need to do, it can give you an advantage in some games. If you need to change something because it’s not working, it’s helpful. We could see that the other day. If you are doing well, maybe you don’t need to change too much but if the other team changes and then you start having problems, to have the ability to adapt is really important. It depends on the players and it depends on my staff as to how we work with the players during the week and then give them the right messages to be sure they understand what they have to do.

We’ve seen direct football from Everton, getting a lot of crosses into the box. Is that something you’ve tried to establish as the main foundation for Everton this season?

Yes, I was watching some games from the last year and talking with a lot of people here and the team was trying to play out from the back but maybe without being, as you say, direct or offensive in some parts of the game. I was also watching games seeing that, when you have a striker like Dominic, he needs more crosses and deliveries, so we’ve tried to do that. Unfortunately, he’s not with us at the moment but Richarlison or Rondon can benefit from the pace and ability of our wingers for us to play more offensively. Football has to be a mix, sometimes you have to keep the ball and sometimes you have to go quickly forward. We are trying to do that, to have options depending on the game and be capable of understanding of what we have to do and do it.

What improvements still need to be made?

Everywhere. I don’t like to concede first – to be fair, I don’t like to concede, anyway! But I don’t like to concede first and we have to be sure that we can improve that. I like us scoring three goals but I think we have the chances to score more. It was the same against Leeds, for example, so we have some games where we can improve in the transition and our attacking play. It’s just the beginning but I am pleased and feel we are moving forward in the right direction.

Early days but you're in the top four. Been here a couple of months now... Do you see signs that you can challenge for Europe this season?

Like, I said before, my motto when I was in Valencia was 'one game at a time' and I think that is the best way - to be ambitious and not make mistakes. If I talk about our position at the moment, it's too early and I think that would be a mistake. We have to concentrate on the next game and you never know. When I was in Valencia, in January we were seven points behind Real Madrid and I told my players that we would win the league. We finished seven points ahead of Real Madrid that time. Ask me in January where we are and I will give you at least an idea but, at the moment, it's too early.

Are you a manager suited to a club like Everton? Maybe you've had most of your success with clubs trying to reach the top. Are you more suited to the club than Carlo Ancelotti?

No, I will say that a manager has to adapt depending on what they have. Whether that was in Napoli or Inter or Real Madrid or Newcastle or Tenerife - it's different, each club is different. When I was with Newcastle, we got promoted and everybody said we were favourites. We did it. Tenerife - we got promoted when we weren't favourites. Then you go to some teams that are quite strong. You can win. Depending on the players that you have, depending on the atmosphere, depending on the board and the chairman - sometimes they support you or not - all of these things can change... but, anyway, as the manager and a coach, you have to do your job which is to try to improve players and try to create a good atmosphere, also with the fans. Chelsea is another example - we had the resources and then we did well. It's just different depending on the club. In this case, because I know the city and I know what the Evertonians want and how they want their players to perform on the pitch, maybe it's easier. But the main thing for me has been to come here and to see a lot of players trying to do their best, not players that were thinking 'I am very good' or characters that don't care. This group of players - they care and they are working hard trying to improve every day.

Do you think you're starting to win over the sceptical Evertonians now? Do you think you've surprised them?

It's a question of emotions. When you talk about emotions it's very difficult to change people but when you talk about being more rational and people that understand the game who can analyse what you're trying to do, I think the majority of these people know that we are doing well and we will try to do well until the end. Even if we lose games, we will fight until the last minute of the game. Then, emotions are emotions - you cannot change someone if they do not want to change. But, I will say again, the people who have more calm to make analysis, they can see that we are trying our best and I think that they will be quite happy with that.

Really impressive start but as you're probably aware, Everton won their first four games last season. I wondered how do you guard against inconsistency?

I think it's important to praise the players when they do well, so I did it in the last games because we have been winning. The game the other day, with the goals we scored, you have to give credit to Gray, Townsend and Keano. But, at the same time, you have to demand something more, because they can do it. So, if you have the potential, my job is to be sure that you reach your maximum potential. I think these players, like I've said before, have plenty of room for improvement. We will try to do that. That is the way to stop complacency. We will keep pushing them in the right way and I think that they understand that and they are trying to be better players every day.

Demarai Gray is just one goal short of the most goals he's ever scored in a Premier League season... From your point of view, have you been surprised in terms of how well he's adapted to this Everton team?

I think Demarai is doing really well. You said he's just one Premier League goal away from his best and we have no doubt he will [break] it, because he's training so well and he's so ambitious. I will not say desperate but maybe desperate is the word... to do well. The fans can be pleased because every day he will try, he will try to improve and become a better player, to score goals, to give assists. All of these things just depend on how consistent he can be. He knows that he has to be consistent and he knows I'm supporting him 100% but, at the same time, I'm demanding more and more from him every game.

Any prognosis on James Rodriguez and when he's likely to be available?

He's training with us. We had a day off yesterday, today is the first training session. We'll train again tomorrow and after we will decide - it depends on how he's doing.