RAFAEL Benitez always faced an uphill battle to be accepted by the Everton support. The Spaniard’s history with Liverpool made this the case with many of the Goodison Park faithful still mindful of how Benitez labelled Everton a “small club” during his time across Stanley Park. The Toffees’ recent form hasn’t exactly endeared him to fans that were never really his to begin with.

Of course, it’s not so long ago that Everton looked to be in good shape under Benitez as their new manager. Indeed, the Merseyside outfit started the 2021/22 season with three wins from four games. At that point, Benitez looked to be a good fit for Everton despite his track record on the other side of the city.

A lot has changed since then, though. Injuries to a number of key figures, including Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucoure, knocked Everton from their stride, but as a number of those figures returned the Toffees continued to struggle. It increasingly feels as if Benitez is in a spiral he won’t be able to escape from.

Seven defeats in nine Premier League matches has put Benitez on rocky ground, with the Everton support and maybe even with some of his own players. Richarlison’s visible frustration at being substituted before the end of Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace hinted at a dressing room now openly questioning their leader.

 

Benitez, who has recently ostracised Lucas Digne after a clash with the French full back, risked further riling his players with his post-match admission that his team are “not amazing in possession.” This came after the 61-year-old hit back at supporters that booed his decision to replace Richarlison with Salomon Rondon at Selhurst Park. “I cannot explain everything all the time,” he said.

At first, it appeared Benitez’s hard-working team would appease fans unhappy at his appointment in the summer. Now, though, the Spaniard has made himself a target for his negative tactics. Everton might not have a history of producing the most attractive, dynamic teams, but the Toffees have always been renowned for having a go. Benitez’s side rarely do that.

It’s fair to say Benitez didn’t create most of the problems Everton are currently experiencing. Marcel Brands’ sudden departure as director of football earlier this month painted the picture of a club going through internal turmoil. Everton have spent over £500m in the transfer market over the last five years, but where is that money evident on the pitch?

Everton have given themselves managerial whiplash in recent times and that is reflected in the squad Benitez inherited over the summer. There is only so much he can do with a group of players  that has been assembled by various different people at various different times for various different purposes. There is no over-arching vision at Goodison Park like there is at other Premier League clubs.

The idea behind Benitez’s appointment was that he would keep the club steady while some fundamental issues are worked out at boardroom level. At Newcastle United, the Spaniard earned himself a reputation as one of the best austerity managers around. The logic behind Everton hiring Benitez, even his Liverpool links, was sound.

As things stand, though, Everton are sleepwalking into a relegation fight to merely stay in the Premier League. The toxicity around Goodison Park is growing with Benitez’s presence only exacerbating the situation further. He has become a symbol of the disconnect between Everton’s decision makers and their fans. In theory, Benitez might have been the right man for the job, but the reality has been very different.

 

CHELSEA V EVERTON  

 

 

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