Premier League English

Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho are an excellent case in point illustrating the truth about Everton under Rafa Benitez

On another day against another rival, the 57th minute of Everton’s trip to Old Trafford on Saturday could have been the difference for a hapless Manchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, obviously desperate to extend his team’s lead and seal a win over the Evertonians, had no options but to introduce Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho whom the erstwhile coach had earlier on already decided to consign to the bench as part of his decision to rotate his players.

One is indisputably one of the best players the world has ever seen for well over the last decade, while the other one cost a reported £73m after a doggedly persistent chase spanning two summer transfer windows and some embarrassment for Old Trafford in the earlier days of the transaction.

When the match began, the vast chasm in quality in terms of the substitutes on the bench available to both sides was massive and immediately obvious at a glance, to say the least.

While world class players were in abundance on the United bench, the Everton bench looked painfully frugal and sparse in comparison. Rafa Benitez obviously was not blessed with the luxury that Solskjaer had been given. His threadbare starting 11 was looking decidedly ragged, with a centre-half out of place playing on the right flank, an academy graduate quivering in his first Premier League start of the season on the left flank and a Salomon Rondon not in the fittest condition up front.

Among the substitutes on the bench were two under-23s stars – Lewis Dobbin and Charlie Whitaker – the latter of whom was enjoying his first involvement in a senior squad at this level. Although likely impressive players for the future generation, perhaps, it was evident that this was the best caliber of players that the visitors were able to muster for this occasion.

Astonishingly, none of that mattered as it turned out that the caliber of players did not make the difference in the match.

Despite being fully aware that his side had injury issues coming into this game, Benitez had still spoken consistently about his confidence that his depleted squad could put up a scrappy fight against a side who have serious title aspirations this season, especially with the revue of glittering superstars they have at their disposal.

Benitez was not frazzled as he had clearly worked on a game plan, one that was executed to near-perfection. With that slotted firmly in place, the Everton boss showed it wasn’t the price tags of players that made the difference nor their perceived “world class” quality. Nor was it even the atmosphere in the stadium with the spectators in attendance to make a compelling difference.

The point of differentiation and demarcation actually came down to something much more old school that Everton had relied on in the past, but had perhaps overlooked. Nothing more than old-fashioned hard work, determination, fast-paced attacking play. Coupled with heart, desire, unity and doggedness.

Watching the Blues play that day, it was undeniable that they were absolutely country miles ahead of their opponents, more so in the second half, with an enviable work rate from a depleted side that was absolutely incredible to witness.

Despite injury issues, the visitors just obdurately refused to roll over as patsies to their illustrious hosts.

They just rolled up their sleeves up and got right down to work.