Rafa Benitez will need all of his tactical nous and transfer market know-how to get Everton into the top six
Rafa Benitez will need all of his tactical nous and transfer market know-how to get Everton into the top six

The coming season will be Everton’s fourth in a row without European football — but Rafa Benitez is determined to lead the club back to the promised land. 

Benitez will be looking to mount an assault on the Premier League’s top six, building on the 10th-placed finish predecessor Carlo Ancelotti achieved before departing for Real Madrid.

Ousting one of the division’s big boys will be easier said than done, which is why we have turned the spotlight on how the new Toffees boss can upset the applecart. 

Keep up the competition

Jordan Pickford was exceptional for England en route to the Euro 2020 final and was in similarly impressive form during the second half of last season.

While the goalkeeper’s widely publicised visits to a sports psychologist may have contributed to his upturn in form, there is little doubt that Robin Olsen’s presence in the squad drove Everton’s No1 on to new heights.

The Sweden international has returned to Roma after completing his loan spell on Merseyside, with Bournemouth’s Asmir Begovic set to replace him as Benitez's back-up stopper.

Everton look to be in safe hands with the 34-year-old veteran, who made the Championship’s Team of the Season in 2020-21. 

With Begovic around, Pickford should be kept on his toes for the foreseeable future.

Jordan Pickford has hit form for both Everton and England
Jordan Pickford has hit form for both Everton and England

Winging it

Benitez has been quick to identify the wide positions at Everton are in need of improvement and is on the verge of securing some much-needed reinforcements.

Free agent Andros Townsend is ready for a reunion with Benitez, who he previously played under at Newcastle. 

The winger, 30, may not set Evertonian pulses racing after contributing just one goal and five assists across 34 league appearances for Crystal Palace last season.

But that lack of end product could have more to do with the finishing of his former team-mates than the ex-England international’s final ball.

Only three Premier League players completed more crosses than Townsend’s 2.19 per 90 minutes last season. 

And wth targetman Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front, that combination has the potential to be deadly.

Andros Townsend tends to make direct runs down the right and looks to get the ball to his attacking team-mates
Andros Townsend tends to make direct runs down the right and looks to get the ball to his attacking team-mates

A bargain buy

The other winger close to agreeing a move to Goodison Park is Bayer Leverkusen's Demarai Gray.

A former Premier League winner with Leicester, the 25-year-old struggled to settle in Germany after joining Die Werkself in January and is looking for a route back to the Premier League.

With less than £2million expected to secure his signature, the Toffees will have a bargain on their hands. 

But they will have to try and get the most out of a player who has always threatened to become a superstar without ever fully delivering.

As with Townsend, Gray will bring a directness that has been lacking on the flanks.

Compared with wingers and attacking midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues over the past year, his 8.89 progressive carries and 3.17 completed dribbles per 90 both rank in the 90th percentile or higher.

Clear the decks

Benitez alluded to the financial restrictions at Everton this summer when speaking at his first press conference last week.

He said: "The reality is the manager has an important opinion. You have to work in the context with a director of football, the board and financial restrictions.

"If we can add players that are good for us, that is the objective. We must improve the players we have and have good communication between everyone working here. 

"And we must manage the financial restrictions while still being ambitious."

After making significant losses for a number of years, the Toffees will have to cut their cloth accordingly to meet UEFA's Financial Fair Play requirements — and this goes some way to explaining the budget acquisitions targeted so far.

If Benitez wants to spend big, director of football Marcel Brands will have to start finding homes for the club's unwanted squad members. 

The case for the defence

Denzel Dumfries' touch map at Euro 2020 reflects his penchant for getting forward at every opportunity
Denzel Dumfries' touch map at Euro 2020 reflects his penchant for getting forward at every opportunity

One area where Everton do look set to splash the cash is at right-back, where there is a pressing need to replace the ageing Seamus Coleman in the starting line-up.

PSV Eindhoven star Denzel Dumfries is the club’s top target and recent reports suggest the Netherlands international is on the verge of agreeing a £13m move to Merseyside.

The 25-year-old was impressive at Euro 2020 but his marauding runs into attacking areas were not a flash in the pan.

Dumfries is in the 97th percentile compared with his fellow full-backs across Europe when it comes to touches in the opposition box, registering 3.88 per 90 last season.

With the dynamic Dutchman on one flank and Lucas Digne on the other, Everton supporters have every reason to be excited ahead of Benitez’s maiden campaign in the Goodison dugout.

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