Rafa BenÝtez: Press Conference before Brighton


COVID free squad?

Do you know any family in England that is COVID free? No, but I think we are getting better. Obviously, we had issues with COVID and these players with problems are now coming back. They have been training so we are much better. We cannot give names or numbers but in terms of COVID we have less problems. In terms of injuries, also we are bringing players back. Still, we have some issues, but we are much better now.

From Everton’s perspective, this game is okay to go ahead?

Yes, we have enough players, and we want to play so when you cannot [because of the virus] then you cannot. When you have the possibility to play, we try to play.

What was it like to have less games during this Christmas period?

I am used to having this situation in Spain or Italy, so it was fine for the family, they enjoyed it a lot. The problem here is that we were expecting to play then when you cancel a game, you have to change the plan for the team, the staff, everyone. It’s a little bit more complicated, but it’s fine to stay that one extra day with your family. After that, you want to play. Mentally, we are ready to play.

Confidence of movement in the transfer market in January?

We are working hard [to sign players]. At the moment we have the strategic review of the structure, but we are still working hard to try and find some targets to improve the team. At the same time, everyone knows how difficult the transfer window is in January. Also, what I notice talking with different teams is that everyone is a little bit worried with COVID-19 so nobody wants to spend too much money. Everybody wants players but on loan with no obligation [to buy]. That is complicated but still we are working, and I am quite confident that we will do two or three things.

With no Director of Football, are you in complete control of transfers, for this window at least?

No. What I said before with the revision of the structure and we have a board. I talk with them about names and then they are telling me issues. Agents are throwing names all the time, so we are in contact with clubs, but it’s not me, it’s the board and the Club that are looking for the right options. After, you can sign what you can, not what you want sometimes, especially this window is quite complicated with COVID-19 and with the money that is not there. Nobody has a lot of money to spend on players because they are a little bit concerned about the future. We have to be very careful when we buy, sell or loan players.

Delighted for fans to see Everton back at Goodison Park?

Yes, we are really pleased to play in front of our fans. We have been talking about how important the fans are for us. The experience of the last year without fans in the stadiums is not great. The first game we played at Goodison Park was amazing with the fans. I think they know that we need them and at the same time we are happy to see them. Hopefully we can play a good game and win, and they will enjoy the game. It won’t be easy because Brighton are doing well but still we have confidence that we can do well with the fans behind us will make it easier for us.

Dominic-Calvert Lewin ready for Brighton?

Dominic is training with the team. I explained before that one thing is the match fitness that you can improve by playing games and the other thing is the fitness. With regards to fitness, he is getting better. Match fitness? We will see. Maybe he scores three goals in the first half and then we don’t need to worry about his match fitness. I think the issue will be how long can he play if he starts the game or if he comes from the bench, how much impact he can have on the game. We are considering all of these things, but he is training well and he is really happy because he is with the team. He’s ready to play and score goals.

Thoughts of Brighton against Chelsea?

I think they deserved the point. Chelsea had some chances, they (Brighton) had some chances. It was interesting to see a team that was pushing and then Chelsea was pushing. When we played against them (Brighton) in the first part of the league, we did quite well. In terms of organisation and the way we played, we did quite well. I think at this time, they weren’t losing any games. Now, they are in a situation where they draw games, but they have chances to win, also they can concede. Hopefully we can be strong in defence and a threat in attack and then we can get the three points.

What are you expecting from them on Sunday, because they didn't stop at all right until the end against Chelsea, which is how they got their equaliser...

Yes, obviously they were losing 1-0 and they had to do it. But we have to consider that the managers need time. I think the manager - Graham Potter - is doing a good job and he's been there for around three years. They have a way to play and they can change the system and still play in this way. They are doing well. At the moment, they are in a good position in the Premier League and they are playing with a lot of confidence, so it will be a tough game for us on Sunday.

The January transfer window isn't going to be easy with FFP restrictions but what can Everton fans expect?

I said when I came here that I knew the fans and I knew the team and I knew the Club. Little by little you get more information. It's exactly the same now. I knew what we were looking for in August, when we were talking about wingers and some [other] positions. We are working trying to find the right players for positions not just for the present, which is the main thing now, but also for the future. There are some positions that we have identified that we must improve but sometimes you cannot. In some positions we are trying to make sure we can improve and we are preparing for the present and the future. What can they expect? Two or three players - I'm sure we will bring two or three players and I'm sure we will bring the kind of players that want to be here, which is the main thing for me.

How much of a boost can Calvert-Lewin give you now he's back?

I can say that he's a massive signing for us for the second part of the league. If you remember - the top scorers of this team last year have not been playing this year. If we bring him back and bring back a few weeks later Richarlison and we have more options there, with Gray and Townsend... All these players giving their best for the team, I think we can think about the second part of the league like something totally different. Hopefully we will see the difference.

What can Andros Townsend do to get back to his best? Has the fact Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison have been out affected his form?

It is a good point. We brought in wingers, and we started the season making a lot of crosses – and everyone could see that was what the fans were looking for. Missing Dominic, who is a great player in the air, for any winger is a big loss. In the case of Andros, I will say he is injured and is pushing really hard because he has a broken bone in his ankle. He is pushing really hard to be fit, even when he has some pain. I was watching him 15 minutes ago and he was training with the fitness coach. He wants to train tomorrow and to be available. That is the kind of character I like in this team. People, even if they have some issues, still they are pushing and trying to be on the pitch. If he is fit, and we will see in the next days and weeks, he will be delighted if he can see Dominic at the end of his crosses.

Are there any other players who were out before Christmas who will definitely be coming back?

Players we had with COVID, we had four or five, with the isolation time and without playing a game, they will be fine. They have been training, we are monitoring them, so hopefully they will be okay. The other players who were injured, little by little they are coming back, or getting closer. We don’t want to take a risk with some of them, but we have two or three that are nearly there. We have a training session tomorrow and we will make a decision. The Covid-19 issue is not just about the numbers, it is also about the positions, because if you lose people in the same position, it can change the dynamic of the team. We are bringing players back and we are happy with this option because now we can play – and at
least we can have some balance on the pitch.

Has the break benefited you so you can get players back to fitness?

If you talk about the virus, yes. if you talk about the injuries – some were out for four or five weeks, so they are a little bit closer but still not available. The only one was Dominic, who has one week extra to keep working. Still, he has not got the match fitness but his fitness is improving. I think it was too early for him to play the last one, because he was too long away from the pitch. Still it is early, but he has more chances to do well, and because we are bringing the other players back, at least you can make a substitution if it is necessary.