Rafa Benitez expects Ben Godfrey to progressively grow into his second Everton season, as the defender plays catch-up on fitness levels following a COVID-delayed beginning to the campaign.
Godfrey started his fourth straight match in the 2-0 victory over former club Norwich City on Saturday after missing Everton’s opening four games while laid low with the virus.
Manager Benitez, who has swapped the player between positions on the right and in the middle of defence, reckons Godfrey is 30-per-cent short of maximum capacity.
The player was substituted in his opening two appearances but completed 90 minutes against Norwich after starting and finishing the 120-minute encounter with QPR last Tuesday.
Godfrey played 31 times last term following his October arrival and claimed the Club’s Young-Player-of-the-Season award.
“We cannot forget he had COVID and it was quite difficult for him,” Benitez told evertontv.
“He is getting better and, little-by-little, he will be better still.
“His fitness is maybe 70 per cent, he can improve a lot.
“In terms of his understanding and position and things he has to do, he is very keen to learn.
“We are talking all the time on the training ground, so he can improve, and I am sure he will do it.”
Godfrey played at right-back against both Norwich and Aston Villa, either side of the match at QPR where the Englishman was employed in central defence.
On his first outing this term, against Burnley a fortnight ago, Godfrey started as part of a three-man backline.
“[His strongest position] depends on the striker,” said Benitez.
“If the striker is too big, maybe full-back. if the striker is quick, he can play centre-back.
“I had this conversation with him two months ago.
“He can play on the left, as a left full-back, as a left centre-back, there are not too many left-footed left-backs and left centre-backs.
“He has the pace and is right footed.
“If he can improve that [left foot] he will be a much better player.
“At the moment, it is just understanding the roles of a centre-back and full-back and different positions.
“We are working on that, he is working on that, and he will be better.”
Benitez has overseen victories in his opening three league games at Goodison Park, matching a feat last achieved by Everton when Colin Harvey was manager in 1989.
Unlike the wins over Southampton and Burnley, however, the success against Norwich was achieved without the consistently top-scoring pair of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
Andros Townsend bagged his fourth goal of the season and there was a second this term for midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Everton have eight different scorers already this term. And there has been an infusion of fresh blood into the forward line of late, with more game-time for Anthony Gordon and a senior competitive debut off the bench for fellow Academy graduate Lewis Dobbin at the weekend.
“We are really pleased to see him [Dobbin] doing well in the training sessions,” said Benitez.
“He is very bright and has the pace and ability.
“It is an opportunity for him and for the other [Academy and Under-23] players to see they can be there.
“Anthony Gordon is also playing, so I am really pleased to see these young lads and they have to take their opportunities.
“It [goals from multiple sources] is important for us, we can be stronger if we have more people in attack and scoring.
“If you have the natural top scorers, it will be easier.
“But, in the meantime, I am really pleased to see any player scoring goals.”
Benitez began his Everton reign with five undefeated games.
Going into the Norwich clash following a twin-setback, then, represented alien territory.
And the Spaniard, still barely three months into the job, admits observing his team reacting to adversity amounted to a useful learning exercise.
“I could see the players when I watched games before I came to Everton,” added Benitez.
“But the reality is you know them when you work with them and talk with them.
“When you have to change something during a game, do they understand you and follow the instructions?
“You learn these things, little-by-little, when you work with them.
“A lot of them understand what we are trying to do – and we have plenty of room for improvement because, you can see, some of them have the potential to be better.”