Featured image courtesy of Justin Snitterfield via getty images
After defeat away at Premier League new boys Brentford, a familiar doom and gloom gripped Everton fans. Early season optimism had been wiped away, replaced by a standard dismay at the state of the club. Ugly scenes at the end of the Brentford match couldn’t have made it more crystal clear, the Toffees’ away support booing their players off and making their grievances known. 14th in the league, without a goal in their last three, a manager in Rafa Benitez universally disliked by a passionate fan base. With the Merseyside Derby up next, it might get even worse.
The Spaniard’s initial appointment was met with discontent, a Liverpool legend taking over after Carlo Ancelotti had left a bad taste in the mouth by joining Real Madrid. It wasn’t an appointment that would unite a fractured fanbase, a managerial choice that wouldn’t get everyone on board straight away. Under the Italian, there was a belief that Everton could be restored to their former glories. But, not even a world-class coach like Ancelotti could guarantee success for The Toffees. Not even a win in the Merseyside Derby under Ancelotti’s tenure would see Everton finish inside a coveted European spot, finishing in a very average 10th under a coach renown for managing the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus. If Carlo couldn’t deliver success, who could?
Rafa Benitez’s appointment signals another excellent manager entering the poisoned chalice of the Everton job, delivering initial success – The Blues with only one loss in August and September – before the wheels fall off in spectacular fashion. Therefore, to blame just the Spaniard for this mess is wholly unfair. A threadbare squad at Benitez’s disposal hasn’t helped, an injury list consisting of star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin and main Colombian defender Yerry Mina weakening the line-ups the Spaniard can field significantly. With Alex Iwobi, Andros Townsend and Salomon Rondon as your main attacking options, it’s always going to be difficult to secure a result.
In the aforementioned class at the Brentford Community Stadium, the Blues were crying out for a striker of Ivan Toney’s ilk. Tireless and constantly battling for the ball, his ice-cool penalty won The Bees the contest in the end. In Rondon, you have a Benitez favourite. Playing under Benitez at St James Park, and also in a spell at Dalian Professional, the Colombian looks way off the pace. Immobile and lacking any real goal threat, he is a tremendous downgrade on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s physicality and knack for popping up with a goal. Even with an injury list and Richarlison missing due to a suspension, the Brazilian’s hot-headed approach his undoing, the recruitment has left much to be desired.
Suffering due to financial fair play regulations, overspending in the past coming back to bite The Blues, the signing of Demarai Gray has proven to be a shrewd bit of business. Electric with his pace and trickery, Gray’s critics would state the former Birmingham youth player is inconsistent. Starting his Toffees career with a few goals to his name, the downward trend in Everton form coincided with Gray sidelined through injury. His cameo off the bench in Sunday’s clash with Thomas Frank’s Brentford saw a bit of invention lacking from The Blues’ overall game, a ball into the box perfect for an Everton player to connect with. A ball into the box made for Calvert-Lewin, bypassing Rondon yet to break his Blues duck.
Performances against Watford and Manchester City saw an Everton side fold, the Watford home defeat unexpected with Claudio Ranieri’s Hornets running riot at the expense of Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford. Breached on multiple occasions, Josh King had the final laugh in that one. Manchester City away was to be expected to a degree, a foregone conclusion after former Liverpool attacker Raheem Sterling scored. Yet, Crystal Palace won at the Etihad by playing daring football. Lacking an offensive mentality, the Blues rolled over for Guardiola’s team.
The bleak times don’t look like ending any time soon, their free-scoring rivals in Liverpool strolling over to the blue section of Merseyside beaming with confidence. Benitez’s former club could well make his position under scrutiny, pile on even more misery at Goodison Park. With fixtures to come against Arsenal and Chelsea, are Everton in danger of falling to the wayside yet again? With multiple failures in recent years under different managers, all of whom were proven before coming to Goodison Park, there’s a lack of belief for Everton. Under David Moyes, you would routinely see The Toffees battle for Europe. Now, mid-table mediocrity is what’s on offer.
Optimism might well return when the likes of Calvert-Lewin and Mina are back, but it will be papering over the cracks. With past recruitment killing their chances of improving this squad substantially, Benitez can only do so much. Sack the Spaniard all you want, these issues will only arise again at a club in a perpetual loop of early promise replaced by the doom and gloom of reality.