Southall names one ‘immense’ Benitez change behind Everton success


Everton legend Neville Southall feels Rafa Benitez is slowly winning over the fans and praised the impact he has had on the players.

Benitez, 61, was a shock choice to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the summer. The Italian jumped ship to return to Real Madrid and a host of names were linked with the Goodison Park hotseat. But it was Benitez who landed the post to the surprise of many Toffees fans.

It was thought his previous six-year stint in charge of city rivals Liverpool might preclude him from the job. But club officials saw past that and it seems to have been a wise decision.

The Merseysiders sit fifth in the Premier League table. They are level on 14 points with Brighton and the Manchester clubs.

It is still early days in his tenure but Southall feels things are moving in the right direction.

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“So far, it’s going ok so fans can be reasonably happy,” he told The Echo. “Some are still a little bit unsettled with Rafa, but he’s came in and got results and he’s doing well.

“I think people are pleasantly surprised, but still reserved to be fair. He’s not been in the job that long so eventually he’ll do well for us.”

Everton have lost just one top-flight game in 2021-2022. That was a 3-0 reverse away to Aston Villa. They have disposed of three clubs in the lower reaches of the table while also downing high-flying Brighton.

But perhaps more encouraging was a 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford last time out. Southall made 751 appearances for Everton during 17 seasons at the club.

He has been a keen observer of their fortunes since leaving in 1998. And the former Wales international has noticed one important aspect of the side that has altered since the Spaniard arrived.

“He’s changed the attitude of the players which is immense, I think,” he added. “They’re a talented bunch of players, perhaps their attitude at times wasn’t great. But now we seem to have them all working together. It’s been a delight for me to watch.”

Southall hails new recruits

Everton signed five players in the summer – four as free agents. They only paid money for Demarai Gray, handing Bayer Leverkusen just £1.8m for the winger.

It is the former Leicester man plus Andros Townsend that have drawn praise. And, once again, Southall feels the pair’s attitude has matched their skill level.

He added: “Two people who have come in to work hard, that’s what you want from players isn’t it?

Demarai Gray Everton

“That’s the idea. If people have got talent but don’t use that talent through hard work it’s stupid. These two have come in and they’ve set their stall out. It’s been a joy to watch.”

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