Rafa Benitez says he has been encouraged by the form and fitness shown by Jean Philippe-Gbamin during pre-season – and he believes the Ivorian is primed to challenge for a regular First-Team place in 2021/22.
The midfielder played the full second half as Everton rounded off their USA trip with a 1-0 victory over Pumas in Orlando on Wednesday.
Gbamin's passing ability, athleticism and work-rate again caught the eye, with the 25-year-old having also impressed when featuring in the final 30 minutes of Sunday’s Florida Cup win over Millonarios.
Serious injuries have severely restricted Gbamin’s opportunities since he joined the Blues from FSV Mainz in 2019 – and boss Benitez insists his availability offers Everton a significant boost ahead of the new season.
“Obviously, he has had big injury problems in the past and now he is training well,” said Benitez.
“I can see him challenging for a position and that is good news for us.
“He is doing well, and he is working hard like the rest of the midfielders. The competition will improve the levels of the players and the team.
“The pre-season is about improving the fitness and the understanding between players.
“We are a little bit away [from having a full squad] because it is a special year, with players coming back after the Copa America and the Euros.
“We are improving the fitness and hopefully in the next 14 days it will be much better and we can complete at the level we want to in the Premier League.”
Everton will contest their final pre-season fixture on Saturday 7 August when the Blues take on Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Benitez’s side will kick-off their Premier League campaign one week later when Southampton visit Goodison Park.
Speaking at his post-match press conference following the Pumas victory, Benitez revealed an intra-squad practice game could also form part of the squad’s preparations for the new season.
Responding to a question on whether Everton could organise another pre-season friendly, he said: “I don’t see too much space for that.
“I think it will be much better to stay together, training together, for the understanding of the players and the manager
“I think it will be better to maybe have a game between us [the squad] and see how we are going.
“It’s important to have a game against a rival like Manchester United. It will give us an opportunity to see the level of the players.”
Benitez explained how an unexpected formation switch from Pumas in Wednesday’s match provided an important tactical test for his team.
And he expressed his satisfaction with how his players stood up to the challenge against the Mexican outfit.
“We were expecting Pumas would play in another way,” he added
“We had watched some games and they changed the system.
“That is good news for us, because we were learning how to manage another way to attack and defend against a different system.
“It was a great opportunity for us to grow and improve and I think we did well in the end.”