Everton ‘friendly’ gives hints of Benitez tactics
Everton played a short match against Accrington Stanley this weekend and it gave us some hints as to how Rafa Benitez might choose to line up on opening day against Southampton.
The behind-closed-doors match was just a little warm-up game and so obviously we can’t read too much into it about how Everton may start the season.
However, there were a few indicators in the team selection that were interesting and possibly instructive in terms of the tactics and team selection Benitez will employ.
First of all was Alex Iwobi’s position. The ex-Arsenal man has been a maddeningly frustrating player since he joined in 2019.
He’s been a huge disappointment although in truth few Evertonians were expecting that much from the player the Blues signed instead of the one they really wanted; Wilfried Zaha.
As I’ve said before Iwobi is a player with the physical attributes to be in theory a quick, powerful attacker and carry the ball forward effectively but most of the time he has flattered to deceive or been just awful.
He’s been usually deployed in a wide position either on the left or right flank. Neither seem to fully suit him although he had a spell this past season when he did play reasonably well in a sort of right wing-back role.
There was some talk late last season about him having conversations with Carlo Ancelotti about his best position and where that might be.
Against Accrington Benitez deployed him in a sort of central number ten type position and he seemed to be comfortable playing there and contributed a pass for one of Everton’s three goals.
Usually last season Ancelotti went with a variation of a 4-3-3 formation and Iwobi wouldn’t have found it easy to find a place in the midfield or as a sort of ten especially when James Rodriguez was in the team and tending to drift into that role.
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Benitez has often favoured a system using three attackers behind a front-running centre-forward and so Iwobi might find he has more opportunities there to play centrally. Would that mean we might finally see what he can offer?
As I’ve mentoned before one of the reasons why I think Benitez was hired is because of his abiltiy to get the most out of fringe or squad players. Can he do the same with Iwobi?
The other player whose involvement was potentially really significant is Jean-Philippe Gbamin. The Ivory Coast player looked pretty sharp in his latest comeback from injury and again he also created a goal with a fine through ball of his own.
As well as bringing more needed additional energy, power and physical presence into the midfield, Gbamin is an excellent distributor of the ball and will hopefully be able to contribute more positive forward passing, again something that the Toffees midfield lacked last season.
All this is still very much speculation and we don’t really have any clear understanding of how Benitez will approach next season and who will end up playing where. But perhaps there were a few hints, we will see if they continue as the club’s pre-season fixtures in the U.S. unfold.