Rafa Benitez says handing the Everton armband to “great captain and great player” Seamus Coleman was one of his easiest decisions as manager.
Spaniard Benitez began his Goodison Park reign with victory over Southampton on Saturday and confessed a stirring pre-match reception “meant a lot”.
Of particular satisfaction during the game was the goal from midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure that turned the scoreline on its head.
Benitez is challenging Doucoure to net at least five times in the Premier League this term – and wants increased goal contributions from all positions to support the weekend’s other scorers, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Coleman started a third straight season as captain and delivered a characteristically feisty display against Southampton.
“Yes [he is captain this season], it is not an issue, he is a great captain and great player,” Benitez told evertontv.
“The feeling was really good from the beginning, the reception from the fans for me and the players.
“It [warmth of ovation for Benitez] means a lot.
“It means they appreciate I will try to do my best and if we can give more performances like this one, they will be happy during the season.
“We have been working on that [adding goals] with the midfielders.
“We know last season, the strikers were scoring goals, the rest of the team not so many.
“The wingers have to score, even the defenders, we know at set-pieces they can score goals.
“But the midfielders have to score goals and I am happy Doucoure scored because it gives me the chance to challenge him and the other midfielders to score more.”
Everton exerted a stranglehold on the game after Benitez flexed his system with the home team trailing 1-0 at half-time.
Centre-halves Mason Holgate and Michael Keane swapped sides and Richarlison moved to the position behind striker Calvert-Lewin, with Demarai Gray switching to the left.
Richarlison struck Everton’s equaliser and generally ran riot, crowning a wonderful performance with the cross for Calvert-Lewin to complete the scoring.
The influential performances of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin were all the more impressive for the fact neither player figured in pre-season.
“We played pre-season without the top scorers of last season and needed to see these players on the pitch,” said Benitez.
“Even if they are tired, they can give you something different.
“The understanding between them [Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin] and the rest of the players was quite good.
“I was happy because he [Richarlison] showed his desire and, hopefully, he can continue scoring goals.
“It is always important to have players who can play in different positions.
“They [Richarlison and Gray] have game intelligence and understanding of the game to do what they have to in each position.
“We work on that.
“Each one has his own characteristics, then you try to find the best place for them.
“After that they need to understand the role.
“They both did really well and gave us the energy we were looking for and the link in our play we were missing in the first half.
“And it was much better in the second half.”
The visit of Southampton marked the first time in more than 17 months that Everton played in front of a full Goodison.
They had three Premier League games with severely reduced capacity crowds last term and won all three.
But it was a slog in front of empty home stands – and Benitez reckons Evertonians will aid a significant uplift in home form.
“Without the fans, it is more difficult to be consistent in the way you want to do things and play,” added Benitez.
“This year, the fans are behind us and the players know what the fans are expecting from them.
“We showed everything we want to see, the players running from the first minute until the last minute.
“And the reaction from the players… sometimes when you concede, you put your head down and it is more difficult.
“But the reaction on the pitch was positive, with the fans behind the team.
“The players showed character, so everything was positive.
“We started the season with a win… but it was also the way we won – I am really pleased.”