Everton will travel to champions Man City as firm underdogs but Rafa Benitez will have the utmost confidence that his team can get the better of their opponents at the Etihad
I’m not mad enough to stick my neck out and say Everton will beat City this weekend…but I can guarantee that’s what Rafa Benitez is telling his players.
He’ll believe it too, let me tell you. Honestly. Passionately. Because he believes in himself as a coach and he believes in his methods.
And the fact is, no matter what Everton fans are feeling about their new manager after a bad run recently, his record tells you that he has the right to have that belief.
There are two ways of looking at their run of fixtures leading into Christmas – a disaster waiting to happen that can get a manager sacked. Or….
It’s the Or which Rafa is thinking about. It can be a disaster if you lose, or win and it’s the making of a manager and his team. I guarantee, that’s what he’ll have been drumming into his players all week.
Of course City are overwhelming favourites. Of course they should win 9 times out of 10. But he’s done it before. And I know when I played for him, there will be no negativity around the place.
I’ve seen him at close hand, when he took me back to Liverpool. He’s a workaholic, no doubt. Obsessed with detail, and always starting with the idea: we don’t concede. Don’t concede, you don’t lose.
But he’s much more than that. His methods work, his track record proves that. They’ve worked at the biggest clubs in the world, and they’ve worked at clubs below the top level too.
So his unflinching confidence is based on very real results. I remember when we got to the 2007 Champions League final, no one really gave us a chance in the Nou Camp in the knock.
Yet beforehand, the work we did was on exploiting them on the break to get a lead to take to Anfield. We won 2-0. It wasn’t a miracle. He’d worked it out all beforehand, and got us buying into it.
Same with the semi final against Chelsea. Mourinho was at the height of his powers then, but Rafa got the better of him. We were the better team (and did I mention, by the way, that I was down to take the fifth penalty, but it never got that far?! Possibly!).
I expect Everton to go to City on the front foot. I think Rafa knows they were too passive in the last few games, in the first half at Wolves, in the game against West Ham. He changed things around against Spurs, got them up and at it straight away, and it made a difference.
He’ll be saying we can go there, get in their faces, defend properly, score on the break, win 1-0. 2-0. Palace did it, we can do it. And he’ll believe it too.
I swear, he’s never given a negative thought about the run of fixtures they have. They’re ridiculous – even the ‘easy games’ are Brentford and Palace away; horrible places to go!
Get something against City and Arsenal though, take points off Chelsea and the fans will turn towards him. Beat Liverpool, and well, you don’t need me to tell you what the supporters will think of that.
They’re the sort of games which make names. Which cement relationships between manager and fanbase. Which can put aside forever those reservations they had about him coming in the first place.
So no, he’ll not have a problem with that fixture list, or about the booing in recent matches, or even about the fact some of them wanted him to go to Newcastle.
He’ll be thinking about winning. And if not, about not losing. And I for one, would never back against it.