Rafa Benitez receives warning signs as Everton's early form crashes

Injuries exposing an alarming lack of depth, the sideshow of James Rodriguez’s departure and now victims of a Carabao Cup shock… Everton’s early season optimism has been punctured and Rafa Benitez must heed the warning signs

  • Everton suffered an 8-7 shootout defeat at the hands of QPR in the Carabao Cup
  • The Toffees’ unbeaten league run ended with a loss to Aston Villa last weekend 
  • The Blues have injuries piling up with Jordan Pickford and Seamus Coleman out
  • James Rodriguez has now completed a move to Qatari side Al Rayyan

Rafael Benitez enjoyed a bright start to his Everton tenure but just seven games in, the spark already seems to be fading. 

The Spaniard’s arrival at Goodison Park was shrouded in controversy due to his Liverpol links. The move split fans with the Spaniard’s six-year spell at Anfield not forgotten.

But the 64-year-old seemed to swiftly win supporters over as the Toffees hit the ground running with a series of wins to kickstart the season. 

However, the honeymoon period appears to have ground to an abrupt halt. 

Everton bowed out of the Carabao Cup in the third round following an 8-7 shootout defeat 

The loss should trigger alarm bells for manager Rafael Benitez who needs to win over the fans

Everton’s penalty shootout defeat on Tuesday night was a warning for Benitez. 

The Toffees bowed out of the Carabao Cup in the third round following a bitterly disappointing 8-7 shootout loss at the hands of Queens Park Rangers, days after defeat by Aston Villa in the league. 

The cup game represented an opportunity for fringe players to step up and really make a name for themselves. 

But many frittered the chance away. 

The Toffees suffered defeat by QPR in the cup, days after losing to Aston Villa in the league

Benitez made five changes from the team that appeared at Villa Park, with some key players omitted from his starting eleven. Their absence was notable.

Andre Gomes has impressed in cameo appearances off the bench over the past few weeks but he fell short of the mark on Tuesday as he and Tom Davies failed to take the game by the scruff of the neck in the middle of the pitch.  

QPR also had a lot of joy down the right flank against Jonjoe Kenny, who was handed a golden opportunity to prove his worth following a summer of speculation over his long-term future. 

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Andre Gomes (centre) failed to get a grip of the game alongside Tom Davies in midfield

This was not a reassuring evening for the Blues boss who is still trying to decipher his best side while aware of the injury-depleted nature of his squad. 

Everton pulled off a budget transfer window with their hands tied over financial fair play rules – those constraints now eased somewhat belatedly by James Rodriguez’s departure.

The club brought in Andros Townsend, Asmir Begovic, Salomon Rondon, Andy Lonergan and Demarai Gray for a grand total of £1.8million. 

But their lack of reinforcements is already becoming glaringly costly as Benitez watches injuries pile up. 

Big names such as Seamus Coleman, Jordan Pickford, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were all missing from the squad for clashes against Aston Villa and QPR. 


Captain Seamus Coleman (left) and No 1 Jordan Pickford (right) are both out with injuries 

The failure to bring in a right back, either as a long-term successor to Coleman or a short-term back-up, is beginning to hit home in the wake of the captain’s absence. 

Talismanic Richarlison picked up an ankle injury during their game against Burnley earlier this month. The Brazilian has missed the Blues’ past three games and could be out until the next international break.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin was pivotal in Benitez’s positive start to life in the Everton dugout, scoring in his first three appearances to begin the term. 

But the striker has dealt another blow to the manager as he faces a spell out with a broken toe and quad injury. 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored in his first three appearances this season but is now out injured

The ever-present Jordan Pickford is also out with a shoulder strain forcing Benitez to play summer arrival Begovic between the posts.

To add to Benitez’s concerns the boss is also now sweating over the fitness of Lucas Digne. 

The left back captained the Toffees in their trip to QPR but was substituted off in the 80th minute with an ankle issue. The Frenchman now faces a race to be fit to face Norwich on Saturday.

The icing on the cake, however, comes in the form of the ‘special’ James Rodriguez situation. 

It was only last summer that the Colombian arrived at Goodison Park as Carlo Ancelotti’s marquee signing to turn around the Toffee’s fortunes.

But just 12 months on his career has taken a dramatic change of direction. 

Everton outcast James Rodriguez has completed a move to Qatari side Al Rayyan

James has ended his stay at Everton after travelling to the UAE for talks with Qatari side Al Rayyan. The deal was completed on Wednesday night. 

When asked about Rodriguez and Everton’s next game, Benitez had said: ‘Very difficult.

‘Don’t forget, we are talking about a special situation from this club, the financial fair play rules have to manage everything in the best way we can.’

The midfielder had been looking for a way out since the departure of his Italian mentor Ancelotti this summer and a move also benefits the club, alleviating some of his £200,000-a-week salary from the wage bill.

The move, however, also further exposes Everton’s shallow squad depth. 

It must be said that Benitez has become extremely adept at dealing with squad issues. During his time at Newcastle, the Spaniard was forced to barter and deal with the club’s hierarchy to squeeze every last penny available to improve a squad that was built for Championship success, not Premier League stability. Rarely was he left with what he considered an adequate squad at his disposal. 

It is a similar situation he must now face head on at Goodison. 

The number of absences has made the Everton bench look threadbare as players have failed to step up in the Blues’ time of need, seeing their unbeaten league run end and their Crabao Cup hopes crushed. 

Cups could be essential to Benitez’s success at Goodison. The former Reds boss needs to win the fans over and a trophy could easily make them forget his history on the other side of Stanley Park.

The Blues haven’t won a trophy since 1995 – a fact their local rivals don’t fail to ring out from the Anfield stands in a Merseyside derby – and supporters are desperate for a new arrival in the silverware cabinet.

Everton last won a trophy in 1995 with victory in the FA Cup and the FA Charity Shield

But they have just crashed out of the competition that was arguably their best shot at a trophy this season and Benitez should be concerned. 

Everton have been through five managers in the Farhad Moshiri era and judging by fan reaction,  Benitez already faced an uphill battle to make it to the end of the season with his job intact. 

A banner near the home of Rafa Benitez read: ‘We know where you live. Don’t sign’

Benitez’s connections with Liverpool meant he was not a manager many Everton fans wanted

In June banners were left outside the stadium by a group of supporters expressing their disapproval at the prospect of Benitez assuming the position. 

The heavy defeat at Villa Park, paired with the cup exit may just have emboldened those who still have an axe to grind with the appointment of a former Anfield icon. 

Benitez will be aiming to snuff out any such dissent by getting back to winning ways against basement boys Norwich on Saturday.  




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