Everton is Rafael Benitez’s greatest challenge – a turnaround would be as great a miracle as Istanbul


As Everton board members Bill Kenwright and Marcel Brands departed after the final whistle, a gathering of fans called for their removal. Farhad Moshiri, the majority shareholder, was not here to suffer the same venom.

Standing on the touchline and watching Liverpool’s breathless performances, Benitez must have feared how bad it would get, especially when Diogo Jota added a fourth with 11 minutes remaining.

The toxicity was nourished by Jurgen Klopp’s side’s mission to bury the demons of their last visit. Jordan Henderson – controversially denied a last-minute Goodison winner in October 2020 – absorbed the spirit of every great Liverpool skipper, striking the first, creating the second and generally running the game.

Virgil Van Dijk eased aside Salomon Rondon in what looked like the mismatch of the century, and every individual battle was won by a red shirt.

But for Jordan Pickford, Liverpool might have had five in 30 minutes. Liverpool’s fans soaked it up, seeing no danger of an imminent comeback. Such complacency might have momentarily filtered through to their players. 

Everton responded when Demarai Gray reduced the deficit seven minutes before half-time, delaying the Liverpool procession.

Indeed, the visiting fans went from gloating to fretting until Salah outran Everton’s defence for the third and the balance of power was restored.

There were so many predictions of doom coming into this game, but what Benitez really needed was a performance; for his players to commit; for them to show they at least looked like they knew what they were trying to do against a superior side; for them to avoid being booed off. Ultimately, that was a challenge too far, the empty stands long before full-time a damning indictment on Everton’s current standing.

With respect to Newcastle United, Benitez has never faced a challenge like this. At St James’ Park, there was a grim sense of reality that staying in the Premier League represented success.


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