The Whites take on the Toffees in the first game of the season at Elland Road today, and crucially, is the first Premier League game since Leeds’ promotion with a capacity crowd. So without further ado, let’s find out about today’s opponents.
First of all, how did you feel about the first game of the season? And how does it compare to last season?
Well, it was a brilliant second half of football by the Toffees. Everton started off last season very, very well, winning its first seven matches across all competitions, yet the team had not come back from a halftime deficit since 2015. Therefore, between the nature of the win, as well as where it occurred - Goodison Park, where the team played really poorly last season - it is certainly different than last season. No one is getting ahead of themselves surely, but the way the Blues played in the second half was absolutely wonderful to see.
It’s fair to say that the reaction to Rafa Benitez being appointed was quite negative for a lot of the fanbase, have opinions settled and how do you feel about your chances under him?
You are quite right that there were, and still are in fact, those who are not only sceptical about what he can bring to Everton but also simply do not like him. With that understood, I think a good majority of the fanbase has accepted him as the boss of the club, and hope that he can improve the players and the overall standing of the club; winning matches in the fashion he was able to in his first Premier League game as a Toffee will create converts at an even faster rate, however.
What’s the general feeling amongst Everton fans regarding transfer business? It seems that incomings have been tailored to fit the Benitez game plan but haven’t exactly blown anyone away
That is a fair assessment I think. Everton’s financial woes are related to the Premier League’s own “Profit and Sustainability Rules” and with that strain, the team has only been able to take advantage of inexpensive or free transfers to this point. These players, and Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray in particular, have integrated really well into the squad so quickly and have provided the Toffees with pace, creativity and better passing in the offensive lead up, and have shown willingness to track back and contribute defensively too. As the transfer window winds down, however, it is expected that the Blues will sell off a few more of its extra players, of which might furnish the purchase of a player that would likely impress supporters more.
How far, if at all, have Everton been set back by Ancelotti’s sudden departure? It felt like you had the potential to break back into Europe in the coming years with him at the helm but the way he left wasn’t very pretty, and now the futures of players like James Rodriguez seem uncertain.
I think that it had the potential to set the entire project back further had the club not decided on someone like Rafa Benitez as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor. There were a lot of names floating about in the aftermath of his departure, and some of those names, like Rafa or Antonio Conte, had the potential to carry a similar weight as the old Italian manager held with the players. The new boss is a very hands-on type of manager, however, and that might have been something that the players on the team needed more of than Ancelotti was willing to give to them at this point in his career. As for James Rodriguez, yes, his stay on Merseyside was always going to be tied to how long Ancelotti remained, and he is one of the most likely to be sold in the coming days; while he is a great talent, who definitely makes a difference when he’s available to play, the money we get for him will, in turn, fuel further, last-minute summer transfers that could really provide greater ability and depth across different parts of the squad.
What do you think is the goal for Everton this season, and can they achieve it?
I am eternally optimistic. If the new Boss can get the most out of the players he has available to him, then I think that Everton can be a top-six or seven-team by the end of the season. The club hung around the top of the table for a good portion of the season last year, and with another year of experience, training and focus, alongside the work style and creativity of Rafa Benitez, I do not see any reason why the team cannot improve upon the better moments of last year. All of the players are frustrated with how the end of the last season came about, and how that might have led to Carlo Ancelotti departing, and wish to push forward to demonstrate that that was anomalous for this group of players.
And finally, what is your prediction for Saturday?
I think that it will be a really tough match. I cannot see Leeds coming out as they did last week against Manchester United, but I also cannot see Everton letting down after how last week begun. The Battle of Bielsa and Benitez should be a really good watch and I will say that the score finishes at 2-1 for the away team.