Rafa Benitez is pleased with the progress Everton are making in the formative months of his reign, but provided mixed news for two of his most recognisable players.
After the sceptical reaction to his appointment over the summer, Benitez has begun working at winning over the Everton fans who were once his rivals. It has been a positive start in the Goodison Park dugout; Everton are unbeaten under the ex-Liverpool boss so far, with four wins and one draw between Premier League and EFL Cup.
Consequently, they are joint-top of the Premier League after four matches in that competition, joining Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool on 10 points.
It could have been a tricky transition after the sudden exit of Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid, but Benitez believes it has been an almost perfect start of his own reign.
“I will not say perfect because we drew with Leeds but close to perfection, yes,” he told reporters.
“It is not easy when you change a manager at the beginning of the season. We are really pleased with everything.”
That said, he is capping their ambitions for a while until they build up further form.
Reflecting back to his time in charge of Valencia, which lasted for three years before he joined Liverpool and provided him with his first three trophies, Benitez urged patience when responding to the idea of a European challenge.
“My model when I was in Valencia was one game at a time,” he said. “That is the best way to be ambitious and not make mistakes.”
As he continues to settle in, Benitez also thanked the Everton fans for the way they have been supporting the team so far.
“I have to give credit to the players and the fans,” he said. “The other day, in the first-half, we were not playing well. The fans were expecting a reaction and they were patient.”
Benitez provides updates on Rodriguez and Calvert-Lewin
The Toffees boss then gave contrasting updates about two players who have endured contrasting fortunes in recent months.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has become Everton’s main man in recent years thanks to his form in front of goal. But they will have to do without him for their next game against Aston Villa on Saturday evening.
Calvert-Lewin is still suffering with a quadriceps injury, while already dealing with a broken toe. Therefore, Benitez is not expecting him to be available until perhaps next month.
“It’s what I said after the game,” Benitez said. “We have to wait some weeks, we don’t know exactly how many but he will not be available for two or three weeks.”
Meanwhile, James Rodriguez has not featured since the arrival of Benitez, a coach he previously had difficulties under at Real Madrid.
But plans were recently unveiled to reintegrate him and the playmaker is now back among the group, his boss has confirmed.
“He’s training,” Benitez said. “These kind of weeks when you play a game and you have a day off in between, it’s not easy to see much from the first training session and we will see tomorrow in another training session.
“He’s training normally with the team.”
Even so, he still faces an uncertain future, as referenced in recent reports.