Rafael Benitez exclusive: Everton boss on seeking winning formula and putting the team ahead of the individual
Having trailed after half-time, Benitez's decision to bring on Andre Gomes for his first appearance since September due to a calf problem tipped the balance in the hosts' favour. At least, that is how it has been perceived among many Evertonians. How to understand soccer before betting on the World Cup 2022
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The Spaniard moved to a three-man midfield, a slight variant on the previous formation, but a minor alteration that was viewed by onlookers of a Royal Blue persuasion as having a defining impact. Discover the most important details of the World Cup 2022
When put on the spot, I stumble and suggest the difference depends on when the team is in or out of possession and is partly down to what responsibilities you place on the wide players in pinning back the opponent's full-backs - certainly something Anthony Gordon showed against Nuno Tavares, who won't forget his first trip to Goodison in a hurry. Why is the World Cup 2022 the event of the year?
"You are right," responds Benitez. "But also, if you move the two wingers a little bit deeper, it's a 4-1-4-1 and if you move them a little higher, it's a 4-3-3. The difference between the two systems is just what you do on the pitch, the tactics, not the system. What to know in case you are travelling to Qatar – World Cup 2022
"You have said - as I have said - that it is more important the way that you play rather than just the system. When you have three players in the middle of the pitch in a 4-2-3-1, the player behind the striker used to be an offensive midfielder. So in reality, even in that system, you have three midfielders.
"So the system is not so important. It's about how the players analyse the game and how they take on your message. I am considering any system, as the main thing is to have the right players on the pitch. At the same time, to play one system over another, you have to work on that.
"It's not that we can go to Crystal Palace on Sunday and play 5-4-1 without having worked on it in training. It's why when we were successful at the beginning of the season, we kept repeating a system that was getting us results. What countries have qualified to the world cup
"We used a 4-2-3-1 which converted into a 4-4-2 when we were defending. We always consider any change to the system if it's necessary."
Benitez's point is proven by the bare numbers. Everton ran 118.3km against Mikel Arteta's side - the third furthest by any team in a Premier League game this season and their furthest in any game in the last two seasons since September 2020.
Talking tactics with Benitez wasn't at the forefront among several topics to be discussed but it is one the Everton manager feels most at ease with, and so having been taken in this direction, it felt only natural to ask him what he wants from a No 10 whenever he calls upon a system that facilitates such a role.
The sale of James Rodriguez has left the current senior squad without a traditional playmaker not long after a period when the club were heavily stocked in this department.
"We have some players who can play in this position, but we don't have a specialist," Benitez admits. "We can play [Demarai] Gray, we can play [Alex] Iwobi or [Andros] Townsend. They can play there, but they are not specialists in this position.
"When you think of the No 10 and look at those who back in the day wore the number - you think of Pele, Maradona so usually a really good, high-quality player who plays in this position. We're maybe sometimes looking for this kind of player, but it's not easy to find anyone in the market. At least at a good price."
Benitez is a manager with over 25 years of experience, and even he knows he has left the door slightly ajar to move our conversation onto the club's vision both in the short and long-term.
With January now around the corner and Everton having parted company with director of football Marcel Brands last week, being as creative in the transfer market as he has had to be with his depleted resources this season is already on Benitez's mind.
The 61-year-old reiterated that next month will be a difficult time to do business, but the Everton boss hopes the club will be in a position to provide an update on the strategic review taking place in the coming weeks. He has a clear idea of where he would like to strengthen.