Rafa Benitez expects Everton to come to the boil for the start of the Premier League season next month – after a valuable week in Florida ended with victory over Mexican team Pumas.
Moise Kean scored the only goal on Wednesday, as Benitez made multiple changes in personnel and toyed with a different system after the break.
The manager is progressively seeing more of the early pre-season training-ground work transferred onto the field, highlighting the speed of his team’s passing from the outset against Pumas.
And he is confident of sustained improvement before beginning the campaign at home to Southampton on 14 August.
Benitez used 23 players against Pumas – and is yet to welcome back the international quartet of Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jordan Pickford and Yerry Mina.
“We have to ask for more and more,” Benitez told evertontv.
“To have the team doing well and winning games in pre-season is fine but the main thing for me is to make sure we are starting the season better.
“With players coming back from the Euros and the Copa America, hopefully we will improve further and can be more competitive during the whole season.
“We have to remember that the top scorers in the team [Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison] are away, then there is Jordan and Yerry Mina.
“We have a lot of players not here and others who came in later in pre-season, so we have more time to prepare.
“We tried to play quick [against Pumas] and not just counter-attack and our players tried to move the ball quicker at the beginning.
“That is the idea and we saw it today with some of our passing. I’m happy with that.”
Everton beat Millonarios from Colombia in their opening Florida match at the weekend.
That contest was settled on penalties following a 1-1 draw, which was probably a fair outcome from 90 even minutes.
Against Pumas, however, the 1-0 scoreline slightly flattered the Mexicans.
Benitez’s team were comfortably on top in the opening half, Kean forcing a save from goalkeeper Julio Gonzalez inside two minutes to set the tone.
Italian Kean netted at the second time of asking on 19 minutes after being released by Demarai Gray and seeing his first attempt saved.
Everton lost some rhythm after nine half-time changes, which prompted a switch to a three-man midfield, but recovered their poise to earn a straightforward victory.
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“Pre-season is just to prepare the team for the season, and it is always good if you can win,” said Benitez.
“We played against two teams that are totally different.
“They had similar styles in terms of passing and moving the ball but different systems, which was very good for us because tonight we played against a side with five at the back.
“It’s not very common in England but it’s getting more common with teams like Chelsea. I think it was a great experience for us.
“We played different players and a different system [in the second half] and it was an opportunity for everyone to show the level.
“[Impressing in pre-season] is the important thing. They [players] had the opportunity to show me and compete against their teammates. That is the way to be sure your team is getting better and to be more competitive.”
Benitez’s initial two weeks in charge were spent at USM Finch Farm, where Everton played two practice games, before seven days in Florida.
The biggest plus of his embryonic tenure, insists the Spaniard, is discovering a motivated and adaptable group of players.
“I would say the attitude of the players [is the most pleasing element of pre-season]," said Benitez.
“The way that we want to play, they have been trying to put in place in the games.
“It’s too early [for everything to be implemented] but it was quite positive.
“There are a lot of patterns that we could see and the communication and understanding between the players was quite good.
“The facilities [in Orlando] were good, the bonding between players was good. There were positives after the two games and we will go back with more energy and ready for the next challenge.”
Benitez was additionally buoyed by news of captain Seamus Coleman agreeing a new contract hours before kick-off against Pumas.
The right-back will stay at Goodison Park until at least the end of June 2023.
“I was really pleased, we are talking about a player who is an example for the young players and who is professional,” said Benitez.
“Since my first day here, after all my conversations with him, you can see he is an inspiration for young players.”