Benitez Hails Key Richarlison Quality

Rafa Benitez says Richarlison’s dynamic and resilient performance in Monday night’s dramatic victory over Arsenal is “proof of his character” – and has backed the Brazilian to continue showing his quality as the Blues embark on a hectic Christmas schedule.

Benitez also paid tribute to Demarai Gray, scorer of Everton’s stunning stoppage-time winner against the Gunners, revealing the forward was intent on fighting for the team until the final whistle despite hurting his back late in the game.

Richarlison overcame the frustration of seeing two goals disallowed after marginal VAR decisions to net Everton’s equaliser 11 minutes from time.

The goal was a just reward for the 24-year-old’s unrelenting work ethic and desire during the game – and his hunger to win was etched all over his face during his impassioned celebration following his expertly-taken late header.

As well as providing a persistent goal threat, Richarlison provided four key passes during the game, a total unsurpassed by any other player.

Richarlison’s strike, meanwhile, was his 45th in just his 122nd start for Everton.

Benitez said: “I was happy [with Richarlison’s performance] because we had a conversation with him and were keeping him motivated.

“I think when he plays on his own as a striker, it is not easy. He did well and we needed his quality. We hope he can continue in this way.

“The fact he scores two goals which were disallowed and has to score a third goal – that is very good proof of his character. 

“When he is in this mood, he is very dangerous.”

Gray’s sensational effort, meanwhile, sealed a richly-deserved win for Benitez’s side and sent the Goodison crowd into raptures.

The summer signing from Bayer Leverkusen has hit five goals and provided two assists already this term and, as well as praising his form, Benitez also highlighted Gray’s willingness to put his body on the line for the cause.

“Demarai is doing really well,” said the Blues boss.

“He is a player of quality and normally they are less consistent. We are working on that and trying to keep him focused all the time. 

“At the end of the game, because he had a knock on his back, I was asking if he wanted to come off – but he was saying, ‘I will stay, I want to do it, I want to do it’. 

“He was fantastic and is doing very well for us. Hopefully, we can keep him with the same mentality until the end of the season.”

Monday’s game also saw a return to action for Mason Holgate following a three-game suspension, while Andre Gomes made his First-Team comeback from a calf injury.

Holgate was introduced as a 31st-minute substitute after an injury to Yerry Mina and delivered an accomplished centre-back display. He won a match-high nine aerial battles and made four clearances.

Gomes, meanwhile, played the final 24 minutes of the game and impressed with his energy and incisive, imaginative passing.

He played an important role in Everton’s winning goal, seizing possession in midfield before gliding past two Arsenal players and feeding Gray, who went on to fire that devastating finish past goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

“Andre has been out for some weeks and it’s important to have different options in the middle of the pitch,” said Benitez.

“He needs to improve his match fitness – that is normal – but at the same time you can see his quality on the ball.

“Mason was training really well leading up to the game and I was really happy with his performance. 

“He was really focused, very aggressive, he was winning balls in the air and calm on the ball. 

“We know he can do this and he did it.”

Benitez reinforced the need for Everton to build on the Arsenal victory with another positive result at Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“Hopefully it will be a very good step going forward,” he added.

“This group of players are giving everything. We can be more precise in the final third and we have made mistakes, but the team spirit, commitment and desire is there – and that is what the fans expect. 

“Hopefully it [the Arsenal win] is the beginning of something more, because we are talking about long-term.”