The winners face the winners of the meeting between Arsenal and Inter Milan, another of Benitez’s former clubs.
It’s not quite the calm before the storm. Maybe it’s the lull between hurricanes. The 61-year-old is aware he needs a good start in the Premier League campaign and any slowdown in momentum will lead to a clamor from the Goodison Park crowd for him to be replaced.
The atmosphere on the training ground is positive. The Spaniard is a top coach and the players have been impressed with the quality of his sessions. Benitez thinks there is a lot of room for improvement in the team. Ben Godfrey, in particular, has enormous development potential and should benefit from the new regime.
Benitez was less excited by the rest of the team. Everton have spent over half a billion in the transfer market over the past five years, but that spending hasn’t brought the success fans are looking for.
Andre Gomes, Bernard and James Rodriguez are likely to be surplus to requirements.
Rodriguez, who earns £ 250,000 a week at Goodison, is the symbol of a flawed recruiting program. The Colombian is extremely talented but has a questionable work ethic in training. The pressure is on Marcel Brands, the director of football, to find a way to offload Rodriguez and the others who do not suit Benitez’s system.
It will be difficult in a market depressed by the pandemic. Brands, whose performance had been monitored during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure, must produce.
There have already been signs of friction between the Dutchman and Benitez.
Not everyone at Goodison was happy when the former Liverpool boss was handed the club reins. Most of the staff, with a few exceptions, responded positively. Benitez is aware of the sensitivities surrounding his appointment and always tries to win over people who resist his methods. It won’t last long.
The main question is whether he can improve the team quickly enough. He is aware that the only way to win the Evertonians is to get results.
It took the intervention of Alisher Usmanov to obtain the post of Benitez. The oligarch is an important sponsor of the club and has a strong influence on the owner, Farhad Moshiri. Since Moshiri bought Goodison five years ago, the businessman and Bill Kenwright, the president, have sometimes embarked on different strategies, especially in the transfer market. Usmanov suggested that more clarity of thinking is needed in the future.
There are also other changes to come. David Unsworth has received praise for his work in the academy and for training the Under-23 squad, which have won Premier League 2 twice in the past five seasons.
Benitez wants the focus to be on change and is more interested in producing players who can impact the senior squad rather than winning at the Under-23 level.
The new manager’s working style differs considerably from that of his predecessors in the Moshiri era. Benitez is convinced he can move the club forward but, due to his past at Anfield, understands that things could turn sour under the most fragile pretext. For now, he’s getting down to business. It is determined that whenever he leaves Everton, Goodison will be in better shape than when he arrived.