Premier League 2021/22 season preview: What are Everton's aspirations under Rafa Benitez?

Rafa Benitez will look to build bridges with Everton supporters while simultaneously seeking to bridge the gap between his team and the European places, writes Ben Grounds

Rafa Benitez begins his reign at Everton

"To be fair, the Evertonians around my place are quite happy and very supportive. Even the Liverpudlians accepted it was an opportunity for me to come back to the Premier League."

The dust has settled since Rafael Benitez became only the second manager after William Edward Barclay to have both Liverpool and Everton on his CV.

There was some opposition to his appointment, with Merseyside Police investigating after a threatening banner which read 'We know where you live, don't sign', but the Spaniard is determined to make a success of his time on the blue half of the divide.

"Football is quite emotional and everybody will have their opinions," he said at his unveiling. "For me it's a challenge, a chance to do well in the Premier League, and show everyone we can compete."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

New Everton manager Rafael Benitez insists he was never concerned about the opposition from some supporters to his appointment

The club had the rug pulled from beneath them when Carlo Ancelotti made the abrupt decision to return to Real Madrid in June, but in replacing one Champions League winner with another, Everton's ambitions remain the same.

"To put it simply, we need to be competing at the top end of the league and to be winning trophies," said majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri in defending his decision to turn to Benitez as the club's fifth permanent manager in as many years.

Moshiri has invested the thick end of £500m into Everton, but the construction of a £500m-plus stadium at Bramley Moore dock means they have had to cut their cloth accordingly in the transfer market this time around.

Also See:

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Take a virtual tour of the Bramley-Moore dock site in north Liverpool that will house Everton's new 52,888-capacity stadium

It should not entirely be seen as a bad thing. Extravagant spending under Benitez's predecessors has garnered indifferent results; for every hit there has been a miss.

Reducing the current first-team wage bill has been among this summer's priorities, with Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie and Bernard having all now departed. More are expected to follow in the coming weeks.

Ancelotti ultimately delivered very little, having promised much. Everton sat top of the Premier League for 30 days at the start of 2020/21, aided by a seven-match winning streak in all competitions.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Benitez discusses the comments he made as Liverpool manager about Everton being a 'small club' and insists he can overcome that if he is successful during his tenure at Goodison Park

There was then the 2-0 win at Liverpool, a first away win at Anfield in 24 visits in all competitions stretching back to September 1999, which felt a timely boost in February. Ending the wait for a first win against the Reds at all in 24 meetings even sparked a run of three victories on the bounce.

Everton's hopes of bringing European football back to Goodison Park were derailed, however, by three wins from their final 13 games. The football at times under Ancelotti was a tough watch, and the home form was abysmal - nine defeats equalled the worst home return in the club's history.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Everton will try to resolve James Rodriguez's future at Goodison Park while Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are available to face Southampton, says Rafa Benitez.

In spite of Dominic Calvert-Lewin's 16 league goals and an impressive tally of 11 away wins, supporters were left with a familiar sense of underachievement following a final-day thumping at Manchester City.

Moshiri has invested so much in order to compete side-by-side with the elite, but it laid bare the scale of the task that still lies ahead for Everton to reach such lofty ambitions.

Where Everton must improve

Everton

Ancelotti appeared worryingly short on answers when asked how he could rectify his side's inability to be on the front foot without losing solidity and balance. When the onus was on Everton to attack, especially at home, the midfield lacked guile and penetration.

From November onwards at home, the side lacked the patience to unlock deep-lying opposition.

Additional mobility in this area to operate alongside Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure would be welcome, but Jean-Philippe Gbamin looks to have finally put his injury troubles behind him, having only made a handful of appearances since his £25m arrival in 2019.

Benitez has been working hard on the training ground to address this apparent weakness, while it is in other areas where the new manager has strengthened.

Everton's total sprints were down on their Premier League rivals, and it is a department Benitez will certainly look to rectify to ensure they finish games stronger than they often did under his predecessor.

Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend will provide much-needed width to a forward line that was often one-paced and a new right-back to compete with captain Seamus Coleman remains a priority.

What Rafa will look to build on

Allan

It is too simplistic to say Everton are back at square one when there are several exciting components to the squad Benitez has inherited.

Ben Godfrey flourished during his first season at the club and his regular appearances at centre-back during pre-season suggest greater responsibilities will be cast upon him.

Jordan Pickford returns following an excellent summer with England at Euro 2020, and he will look to build on his 12 clean sheets last term.

Ben Godfrey is growing in stature all the time
Image: Ben Godfrey is growing in stature all the time

There is a solid defensive base - an area Benitez has always placed great emphasis on during his managerial career - and the hope is that momentum generated from a fine away record can be carried through into the new season with supporters back in the stands.

Calvert-Lewin enjoyed a breakthrough season having developed well under Ancelotti, and he will thrive off the new arrivals in wide areas brought in to provide plenty of crosses and play to his aerial strengths.

Will Richarlison suffer from burnout?

Richarlison has played 15 times for Brazil this summer
Image: Richarlison has played 15 times for Brazil this summer

It is clear to see why Everton have asked Richarlison to forgo a holiday after his Olympic success with Brazil. The forward has returned to training at Finch Farm despite only just winning gold at Tokyo 2020 with his country.

The victory over Spain in the final was his 15th international match of the summer having also reached the final of the Copa America, a tournament which started not long after he had completed his 40th and final game for his club during the 2020/21 season.

But with Calvert-Lewin missing the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United last weekend with a minor toe injury, Everton looked desperately short of a focal point.

Everton often rely on Richarlison to win matches

The club agreed with the player that he would report back to training following the conclusion of his commitments at the Olympics, where he was top scorer with five goals.

Benitez knows he must protect the 24-year-old from burnout this term, but he is aware of the team's over-reliance on him.

What is more, Richarlison has a good record against Southampton, Everton's opening-day opponents, scoring the only goal in their last meeting back in March to add to his two other winners against the Saints.

Indeed, Everton have a win percentage of just 11.1 without the forward compared to 41.9 when he has appeared. Benitez knows he has to hit the ground running given his appointment was not universally popular, but at what cost?

Expectations lowered but Europe still the target

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Everton captain Seamus Coleman says it is a 'massive honour' to extend his deal at Goodison Park to 2023

Everton's fanbase is a disgruntled but knowledgeable one.

They are aware of the sizeable task Benitez has undertaken and the transition which the club finds itself in once again. To the dissenting voices, there will be no honeymoon period for their new manager. Results will be demanded from the off without compromising the desired identity of playing attractive football.

But for Benitez to leave his imprint on this squad of many parts, it will require patience.

Everton are a club that has historically thrived off having fans in the stadium, and those supporters must now acknowledge the role they play in the club's fortunes. It has been a summer where people have put themselves first. A former Liverpool manager is in charge and it is time to get on with it.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Everton boss Rafael Benitez says Financial Fair Play rules must be followed by clubs as he looks to maximise the potential from his own squad.

Optimism among those returning to Goodison on Saturday appears in short supply after few additions to the squad, but wasteful spending has pushed the team further away from the Premier League top brass.

Benitez said: "I think the fans have seen during these weeks what we can try to do, and the point is that after 17 months I think they will be desperate to see the team on the pitch, to cheer the players, to support the team.

"I think they are quite clever and they know the main thing for us is to be sure we are strong at home. They can be a major part of our success, and I'm sure they will be supporting the team in the way they did all the time."

For all the instability poor managerial appointments has caused, there remains an expectation for this club to return to Europe.

That should excite Benitez and his players, not fill them with fear.

The Essential Football Podcast: 21/22 Premier League season preview

The Premier League is back! New signings, new teams, old rivalries resumed and fresh hope, all to the sweet sound of full stadiums. Kate Burlaga is joined by Nick Wright and Gerard Brand to preview another nine months of drama in the top flight.

PART 1: Are City still the side to beat? And who will challenge them? Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool assessed

PART 2: Will the north London gloom lift? Leicester in focus and surprise package: Leeds, Aston Villa and Everton tipped

PART 3: How will promoted trio Brentford, Watford and Norwich fare? Plus: New managers assessed, and can West Ham deal with European distraction?

Listen on your provider here

What summer business has been done?

In

Andros Townsend - Crystal Palace, free

Asmir Begovic - Bournemouth, free

Demarai Gray - Bayer Leverkusen, £1.6m

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

New Everton signing Andros Townsend has backed manager Benitez to be a success at Goodison Park and is looking forward to linking up with striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin next season. Pictures from Everton.com.

Out

Theo Walcott - Southampton, free

Callum Connolly - Blackpool, free

Josh Bowler - Everton to Blackpool, free

Joshua King - contract expired

Yannick Bolasie - contract expired

Muhamed Besic - contract expired

Robin Olsen - end of loan

Dennis Adeniran - contract expired

Matthew Pennington - contract expired

Con Ouzounidis - contract expired

Bobby Carroll - contract expired

Bernard - Sharjah FC, undisclosed

Lewis Gibson - Sheffield Wednesday, loan

Pre-season friendly results

Asmir Begovic was the shootout hero in Florida
Image: Asmir Begovic was the shootout hero in Florida
  • Everton 3-0 Accrington Stanley - Saturday July 10, Finch Farm
  • Everton 1-0 Blackburn Rovers - Saturday July 17, Finch Farm
  • Everton 1-1 Millonarios (10-9 on pens) - Sunday July 25, Camping World Stadium, Florida
  • Everton 1-0 Pumas - Wednesday July 28, Camping World Stadium, Florida
  • Manchester United 4-0 Everton - Saturday August 7, Old Trafford

What are Everton's opening six PL fixtures?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Demarai Gray says the ambition and experience of manager Benitez was one of the major factors in his decision to join Everton

August

  • 14: Southampton (h) - 3pm
  • 21: Leeds (a) - 3pm
  • 28: Brighton (a) - 3pm

September

  • 13: Burnley (h) - 8pm, live on Sky Sports
  • 18: Aston Villa (a) - 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
  • 25: Norwich (h) - 3pm
Fantasy Football is LIVE!

Fantasy Football is LIVE!

Sky Sports Fantasy Football is back for the 2021/22 season. Create a team for free, and you could win £50,000.

Around Sky