Benitez declares stance on Everton fans and reveals decisive tactical shift

Date published: Saturday 14th August 2021 6:57 - Dan Burnham

Rafa Benitez hugging Lucas Digne

Rafael Benitez has shared his thoughts on the role Everton fans can play in their side’s season following their comeback victory over Southampton.

The Spaniard had a less than ideal beginning to life at Goodison Park when debutant Adam Armstrong put the visitors ahead in the 22nd minute. But a convincing second half turnaround ensured he got off to a winning start in the Premier League for his new side.

Richarlison, fresh off Olympics success with Brazil, netted an equaliser shortly after the restart.

Abdoulaye Doucoure gave his side the lead before the club’s top scorer last season, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, opened his account for the new campaign.

Ex-Liverpool boss Benitez will be looking to build bridges with the Everton fans, and he began by expressing his gratitude to them after the match.

“Thanks to the fans for the support for me and for the team,” he said to BBC Sport. “It’s an important situation this year with the fans behind us – I think it’ll be important for us.

“We know it’s the beginning and we have to improve, but we’re really pleased with the reaction of the team and the support of the fans.

Having been booed off the pitch at the interval, it was crucial that Benitez got his half-time team talk right.

And he revealed in his post-match interview the decisive tweaks he made that led to all three points being secured.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates scoring against Southampton

“At half-time we changed the position of the centre-backs and the position of Richarlison. But you always have to have a little bit of luck.

“Playing Richarlison wasn’t a gamble – he was fine. We gave him one day to rest and made sure he was OK. He scored, so everyone’s happy.

“Obviously I think the performance is the key. It means we’re together. If you do all these things and you lose, it’ll be more difficult.”

Familiar story for Southampton fans

Meanwhile, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl bemoaned errors and a poor second 45 as they slipped to an opening day defeat.

He said: “For the first goal, the way the corner happens was nearly an own goal. There’s no need – Alex [McCarthy] can pick the ball up and everything is easy.

“Then you can see the atmosphere coming and you feel the pressure on you. We calmed it down a little bit but then we conceded a beautiful second goal.

“Until half-time it was a very good game from our side. The game was in a perfect way but it wasn’t enough to get something, which is very hard to take.”

The defeat was a familiar story for Saints fans, who have become accustomed to seeing their team drop points from winning positions on a regular occasion.

Southampton players dejected after conceding against Everton

A positive for the south coast side was seeing their new striker get on the scoresheet – a sentiment that Hasenhuttl shared.

“I’m happy for Adam [Armstrong]. It’s always good for a striker to immediately get a goal in a new team. The rest of the 90 minutes were absolutely OK. It’s something to build on.”

READ MOREBenitez eyes Man Utd raid, as Everton launch ‘approach’ over realistic deal

 

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