Rafa Benitez is taking over at Everton following Carlo Ancelotti’s exit after 18 months. During Benitez’s long and storied career, he has won 13 major trophies while coaching in Spain, England, Italy, and most recently China.
Fans of the EPL know the Spanish manager best as Liverpool’s coach from 2004 to 2010, where his most notable accomplishment was winning the 2005 Champions League in a truly fabulous game. He spent a short time at Chelsea and Newcastle, stabilizing both clubs in times of need.
Benitez has a reputation for being a brilliant tactician, and a tidy summary of his managerial history can be found here.
Everton had a roller coaster season last year, finishing 10th in the league. The Toffees opened the season with four wins, looking like a team that would make some noise. But injuries and inconsistency kept them from making a real run. They did see a break-out season from Dominic Calvert-Lewin who scored 16 goals. And they kept 12 clean sheets with a near-neutral -1 goal difference on the season.
Everton has some key players in some key places, but it could certainly use some signings to bolster the team. I’m very curious how Rafa will line up this season, so I’ll be paying some attention to his pre-season formations.
Below the most important questions for me when approaching Everton players under Rafa Benitez this season.
Will Dominic Calvert-Lewin continue to grow and score?
This is the biggest question for me. In Rafa’s fantastic title-winning season with Valencia, no player scored double digit goals. In fact, 7 was the high. In his time at Liverpool, only Fernando Torres scored more than 20 goals in a single season (24 in 2007-08). Dwight Gayle scored 23 in Rafa’s one season with Newcastle in the Championship, but I don’t really count that as great evidence, especially since Gayle never hit double digits in the EPL.
So what effect will Benitez have on DCL? We know Rafa is going to be organized and structured, and he has not been a manager who in general is going to try to outscore opponents. I worry about a fantasy drop for the young England attacker.
What will happen to Richarlison’s fantasy production?
Richarlison scored only seven goals last year, after netting 13 and 14 in the previous two seasons. He’s an attacking player who is involved and on the ball. He was a consistent player in my lineup during his good years, especially in Fantrax where the phantom points can add up. While forwards do not always have success with Rafa at the helm, attacking midfielders are vital. Richarlison is certainly no Steven Gerrard, but Gerrard was one of a handful of attacking midfielders who did have some success under Rafa.
I think the arrival of Benitez could be favorable for Richarlison. The Brazilian is a bit temperamental, so the organization and professionalism of Benitez could help him as he clarifies the attacker’s role. Much will depend on who takes PKs, set pieces and corners, but I see some hope for the Brazilian under Rafa.
How will Everton do defensively and what does that mean for clean sheets and wing-backs?
Going back to the Valencia season, we know that a Benitez team can shut others down. In their title winning season if 2001-02, the team conceded only 29 goals over the 38 game season. In his years at Liverpool, his team conceded more than 30 in a season only during his last and most disappointing season. He is renowned for his defensive tactics . Players like Abdoulaye Doucoure, Tom Davies, Andre Gomes, and Allan give him options in the defensive midfield area, which Benitez typically deploys with much success.
His back line is solid if not spectacular. With Jordan Pickford coming off a good, confidence-boosting Euro tournament, Everton’s No. 1 becomes somewhat more interesting this season. Some cheap Everton starting defenders could also be solid options.
But Lucas Digne, who at times can be fantasy gold, remains a question. The added potential clean sheets would be a nice bonus, but we will have to see how much freedom he will be given to bomb forward and contribute to the attack.
Although fan reaction has largely been negative, I think this could be a good move for Everton. Last season’s tenth place finish was disappointing with the squad they had and the goals that DCL scored. They will be looking for more this year. With Benitez at the helm they will most likely achieve that by conceding fewer goals, but probably at the cost of scoring fewer goals. I’m looking at Pickford and getting in early on some cheap defenders, once I see how they will line up.
As for Everton’s attackers, I’ll be waiting to see what Benitez means for the offensive side of Everton’s game.
What do you think of Everton’s decision to bring in Rafa Benitez? Does it make you more or less likely to grab Everton players for your fantasy teams? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!