The roles have been reversed for an old foe at Everton (4/1 Top Six Finish) with former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez installed as their new head coach on June 30.
Benitez spent six years on the other side of Stanley Park, guiding the Reds to Champions League glory in 2005, but those who’ve followed his career will be aware that the Spaniard has never been one to let emotion get in the way of success.
It is now 26 years since Everton last won a trophy and living in the city that gave us the Beatles, Farhad Moshiri must curse his luck on an annual basis as he finds that ‘money can’t buy me love’ as he continues to pine for Champions League football.
The experienced coach will know what is expected of him and now needs to put his plan into action.
Hopes for the New Season
There is a strange symmetry about Benitez’s appointment in that this is the second time he has taken over from Carlo Ancelotti.
He previously replaced the Italian at Real Madrid in 2015 and despite mixed returns, his predecessor looks to have laid some solid foundations during his 18 months in charge.
The 2020/21 campaign was one of frustration for the Toffees, winning 11 times at home, once more than both Liverpool and Chelsea, but tasting victory on just six occasions at Goodison Park.
That meant they could only finish 10th but Benitez’s ambition means he will see a top-six spot, with at least a push for the Champions League spots built-in, as a minimum requirement.
The Madridista is also shrewd. While he may have occasionally garnered criticism for forsaking the cup competitions during his last spell in the Premier League at Newcastle, he’ll see both the EFL Cup and FA Cup as opportunities to break the club’s trophy duck.
Arrivals and Departures
Demarai Gray from Bayer Leverkusen – £1.8m
Asmir Begovic – Bournemouth – Undisclosed
Andros Townsend – Crystal Palace – Free transfer
Bernard – Sharjah FC – £900,000
Theo Walcott – Southampton – Free transfer
Joshua King – Watford – Free transfer
Matthew Pennington – Shrewsbury – Free transfer
There is no shortage of talent at Goodison Park but the man who really came to the fore under Ancelotti was striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin (25/1 Premier League Top Goalscorer).
Signed from Sheffield United in 2016, the Yorkshireman previously attracted criticism for falling into the trap of demonstrating all of the attributes of a brilliant centre-forward, only to fall short in the scoring stakes.
However, in the last 18 months, and perhaps due to the influence of club legend Duncan Ferguson, the 24-year-old has exploded, netting 16 times in the Premier League last term.
Calvert-Lewin’s form deservedly earned him an England call-up and after often being one of the spare men in Gareth Southgate’s squad at Euro 2020, he’ll be desperate to prove he deserves a starring role for both club and country.
Benitez has worked with some of the greatest attacking players of the last two decades, potentially all time. Pablo Aimar, Steven Gerrard, Wesley Sneijder, Eden Hazard, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo have all played under him and have all have had to fit into his preferred 4-2-3-1.
The 61-year-old is wedded to his favoured shape, so much so that he spent the earlier years of his time at Anfield playing Gerrard on the right as he didn’t trust him in central midfield. He even ditched John Terry at Chelsea as he deemed him too slow to play a high line in a back four, winning the Europa League in the process.
Benitez has wasted little time telling his players that he expects them to work hard in both attack and defence.
After the club’s haphazard approach in recent transfer windows, those who have arrived so far look to have been signed to fit the system, not vice-versa.
Last Season – 10th.