Rafa BenÝtez: Press Conference before Chelsea


Right messages from players on and off the pitch…

I think it’s important for everyone and in this case we knew that he (Richarlison) has a problem. The conversation I had with him this morning was clear and he recognised that he wanted to be on the pitch to help, but he understood that we are trying to do the best for him at the same time and what is best for the team. We have a problem with the strikers (injuries) so we want to protect him. I think that is clear now so a lot of people talking will now realise that we were trying to do the best for the team.

Important at the moment that the right perception is put out there?

Yes, I think that is important. I was talking today to some of the senior players, and everybody understood that it is important to stick together.
It’s crucial. When you have a difficult time, and you stick together then you know later on you will be stronger.It’s the same message that I am sending out every time.

I have confidence that we will do well and we have to be sure that the players are giving everything. They are doing that. The reaction of the players on the pitch when we are losing is quite good, they are trying until the end. One thing is to be successful or not, but the other thing is to give everything on the pitch and they are doing that. That is the main message from me, that they continue fighting and trying to do the best on the pitch. Hopefully we can avoid some mistakes and have more chances to compete in every single game.

Communication from the owner to the fanbase needed?

To be fair, I was talking to Mr Moshiri this morning. I have meetings with the chairman and Denise, the chief executive so I have conversations with them. I will say something that I have said before, they have experience changing managers, trying to adapt things and it was not working. Which is the feeling of the last few years of any Everton fan, success or frustration? So, you know the answer because I have a lot of friends that are telling me the same. They know that the problems are not just something you can fix in five months.
They know that you will need time and I think that we are going in the right direction.

One thing is what you can see on the pitch every weekend. The fans at the beginning could see what we were looking for. The intensity, commitment, our style of play.
Everybody was delighted, really happy. With the frustration of the last few years, everybody could see that we were going in the right direction. We cannot forget two or three things that sometimes people forget.

Last year the squad was around 16 players on the pitch, you can do the numbers now. Around 16 players used throughout the season, that means there was a lot of players who were not available for different reasons. Some of them, a lot of them they were injury prone, they had a lot of injuries.They were missing between 30 to 40 per cent of the games because they were injured. If you have seven players and then you add some players [who are injured] now like Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] who was playing 85 per cent of the games and this year he’s playing 18 per cent. It’s a massive difference.

You lose Richarlison because he was in the Copa America, the Olympic Games, two months injured following a bad tackle which resulted in a knee problem. Now he is injured because maybe there was an overload like a majority of our players. They are playing more than maybe they could expect if you manage the squad with 25 players because we don’t have too many and then some of these players were not playing.

Now we are trying to manage these problems of the past. We did well at the beginning but as soon as we have key players injured, we have problems. It’s just to be sure that we take responsibility because we know that we can improve things, but sometimes you cannot stop a broken bone of Andros Townsend or a knee of Tom Davies or a metatarsal of Doucouré. You cannot control these things. You can try to avoid the others like muscle injuries but when you have players overload like Richarlison for example then you have to deal with that. We are trying to deal with that, we will go to January and try to improve the squad in terms of positions and names. Hopefully we can do well and I’m sure that we will be much better in the second part of the league. If you have Dominic Calvert-Lewin for three or four months fit, I’m sure the team would be higher in the table and the fans will be happy at the end.

Is the job bigger than you expected?

I don’t exactly the meaning of ‘bigger’, I would say more difficult. I knew about the challenge, but it is more difficult because at the beginning we identified the problems. After one month we could see things that we wanted to change but as I’ve said, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You cannot change everything but when we were in this process, we had big injuries, important injuries. We couldn’t play Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison at the same time. Then, we lost Doucouré when he was doing really well. Yerry Mina [as well]. We are losing key players in the spine of the team.

We are bringing back players, but we are still overloading the others so that is the reason why on the pitch you can see sometimes that the team are not doing exactly what we are expecting. Still we are losing games because we are making individual mistakes. We are working on all these things. The attitude of the players is quite goodThe majority of them are giving everything and they try their best. I’m sure if we add some people and we bring back these players that are key to us then we will be stronger.

I will repeat again, I don’t want to say this after every press conference or game, but I am sure 100 per cent that the team will be much better in the second part of the league.
We will be in a good position and the fans will be happy with the way that the team is playing in terms of intensity, commitment, all of these thingsIf you want change other things then you have to adapt other things we don’t have at the moment. It depends on the transfer window for us to adapt these things.

Game plan for Chelsea, sit back and counter?

I think everybody can see that the top sides normally have the possession and are on top of you, they push and push. We were quite good at the counter attack in the beginning.
We have players up front that have pace. You have to adapt your system, your way to play depending on the players you have to try and implement things. What I said before, when you have important players injured then you have to adapt. Everything depends on that.

What we want to do there is to just be strong enough in our defence and then play good counter attack. If I said ‘no we will have plenty of possession with the players that we have at the moment’ [I would be lying]. We know that we have to manage in a different way. We were successful at the beginning and hopefully we can be successful during the year, and hopefully we can be successful tomorrow.

Vaccination status to be considered when signing players?

To be fair, we have had this mentioned in a couple of meetings. We encourage the players to get the vaccine, to have everything in control for them and their families, for everyone around. But at the end of the day, it depends on them. If you see a player that you like, you will try to give the same advice but it’s up to him. We will continue to encourage the players to get the vaccine.

How does current Everton situation compare to jobs in the past in similar situations?

I have a lot of experiences in different countries in different situations so don’t forget I was promoting teams, trying to avoid relegation with others, and winning trophies with other teams too. I have been in all the possible situations you can think. The best way to do that is to do what I have done today. Talk to senior players, with your staff, analyse everything that you are doing, and try to make the right decisions.

At the beginning of the season when we were doing so well, I was telling my staff that they were making every decision right. The team selection, the substitutions, everything was right. Now when you have less options, sometimes you have to consider what is available for you and then if three different people have three different opinions then something is wrong. If you had Messi, nobody would say ‘Messi is on the bench, play Messi. Everybody would know that you would have to play Messi. But when you have different opinions and everybody is right means that we have to consider that there is a little bit difficult and we need to adjust. Keep working hard, trying to be sure that we are making less mistakes than usual.  

Patience needed. How do you take the fans with you?

We talk about the fans with me, they don’t have to be with me. They have to be with the team and manager and players and supporting the Club. They did that from day one.
When people were speculating about what would happen, they were amazing from the beginning. When we conceded the fans were supporting and reacting and enjoying at the end because we were winning. This is the environment we want for every game. It depends on us on the pitch and the fans in the stand supporting the team. The majority of fans know that but we cannot help if we cannot win games.

We have to give everything. They have to realise that for four-five years it’s been frustrating. We are trying to change something and have the experience to do it. We did it in other clubs in the Premier League and other countries. It is to be sure we stick together, that is crucial, for us to stick together as players and as a club and team. The senior players who have been here for years know what I am talking about and the problems and that we need to find a solution. They think we are going in the right direction. People who are more analytical will understand what is going on.

Psychology for your team at Chelsea?

The first thing we did yesterday was work on the ideas and how we want to play and approach the game. Today we did the same and we finished the session and I encouraged the players to do the same. Be sure we go there with the idea to win the game. When I say that… I don’t want people taking advantage, saying you have to be on the front foot to win the game. Sometimes you have to win on the counter-attack. Nobody can expect us to go there and have 70-per-cent possession, that would be impossible Chelsea are strong. We need a plan to get the best from our players and take advantage of Chelsea’s weaknesses, although there are not many.

How long do you expect Coleman and Townsend to be out for?

In terms of time, Andros has a broken bone, so that takes some time. We need to see what the specialists say. Seamus was pushing. He has a swollen foot, but he is pushing – he is someone who wants to help, so we are assessing him and we will decide about that tomorrow.

What was the owner’s message to you about the support he has given you?

I cannot give you all the details of a private conversation but when I talk with the owner, chairman and chief executive – and I talk with them nearly every day – we talk about what we want to do and what we are already doing for the future. We are not just talking about the present, we are also concerned about that because we want to win – but we are thinking about the future and January. And not just January, after then, what we can do to make the team and squad stronger. Don’t forget what I said before – this squad was using 16 players, and we have lost some of them, we have to be sure we are strong enough for this January transfer window – we have to be ready and for the future, too. The conversations are quite positive and constructive about what we want to do and what we are doing now already – and support, all the time. Everyone wants to win but they know it’s a difficult time and we have to stick together.

So, you feel secure in your role?

When I came here, I came with the idea to be three years plus, with the new stadium, so what I say. Experience means that sometimes you have difficult times, but still you have to keep doing your job and you know one game can change everything. One game will put us in the top 10, and we know we have some injuries and when they come back we will be stronger.

Injuries mounting. Does that mean you want to sign more players in January?

No, they knew already and we are working on that. We need to strengthen the squad. We have 16 players available, it means still you have nine players you are using not too much.
That is why we want to improve and the fans are expecting in January we will bring in others. The difficult in January is you don’t have some of the players you want available have to bring in someone who can help the team now and is good for the future. I didn’t need to tell anyone anything we have been working on that.

Getting best from your players?

The second half against Crystal Palace we were on top, we could have equalised a couple of times and the late goal changed the perception. But the reality is the team is reacting.
Anthony Gordon is playing and growing and improving. Doucoure is scoring goals and improving. Ben Godfrey, after the COVID and first month, is improving. We are missing important players.

That means the players around have to manage in a different way You normally rely on those players to make difference. A lot of players are improving and you see Coleman and Allan playing a lot of minutes But some of the problems are the same and you cannot change them signing three players We signed three players and two keepers, spending £1.7m.
You don’t expect to find a solution to four or five years of uses. We are going little by little trying to fix problems and we need time. And I am confident we will do it.

Playing well is only one half no good?

Each game is different. People were talking about tactics and systems, we changed to three in the midfield against Crystal Palace because we wanted to keep the ball better. We had to adapt quickly because they were on the front foot. We had to react and we were getting stronger. It depends on the players and problems you have. When we didn’t have Doucoure, we didn’t have energy in the idle of the pitch, so we bought in Delph to hep the team, then Andre Gomes. But these players weren’t playing for a while.
Gomes was 70 days without training with the team then he helped the team against Arsenal but you cannot expect him to be match fit three or four days later. It is impossible.

Time for Digne?

I cannot agree with you more. Lucas Digne is a good player. He was an important player for us. Yesterday, we did a training session and he was in the XI starters. Today he said he was ill and is not available for tomorrow.

Allan and DCL?

Dominic is quite positive, he is training well and getting really, really close The only issue is to be sure we don’t take too many risks because he has had two injuries We want to be sure he is 100 percent fit, then he will be crucial for us in the second half of the season. He is very close and we will see him soon.

Allan did a light training session today and we have to keep an eye on him.In the last 10-15 minutes against Arsenal, he was playing with his adductor. He wans to help so is quite positive and he told me he is ready to help the team and if I need him he will be available, because he is a warrior, a fighter.