Benitez's Faith In Everton Youth

Rafa Benitez says he had full confidence in Everton's young players and believes the point earned at Chelsea was a just reward for the attitude of those on the periphery of the First Team.

Despite the number of unavailable senior players creeping into double figures due to injury and illness, Everton fought back from a goal down to secure a morale-boosting 1-1 draw at the home of the reigning European champions.

Goalscorer Jarrad Branthwaite stole the headlines, while Academy graduates Anthony Gordon, Jonjoe Kenny, Ellis Simms and Lewis Dobbin also made key contributions on a rousing night for the Toffees, with Tyler Onyango being introduced as a late substitute.

Taking all of that into account, Benitez ranked the match as one of his most satisfying since taking the managerial reins in the summer.

Speaking to evertontv, he said: "I was happy with some of the games at the beginning but, yes, thinking about all of the issues with the illness and injuries... So many senior players couldn't play and some of the senior players who hadn't been playing but had been training really well were performing today and the young players came in. 

"The team spirit, the intensity - it was a great point and I think the fans appreciated it.

"I've said so many times that the team is working hard. You could see every single player. After, we can make a mistake, we can concede a goal, or we can miss a chance - but we have a lot of players who are working so hard. 

"Sometimes you deserve a little bit of luck and we got that. 

"If and when we have some of the senior players coming back from injuries, it can be a little bit better. 

"It makes a big difference when you have that competition - I think the players can improve with that. 

"The other problem with not having players [through injury] is that you are over-loading the others. 

"I'm really pleased because, playing different players and they were performing at the level we expect but, at the same time, we know fitness is a lot different to match fitness. 

"You train and you can be fit but the match fitness, you could see, some of the players were really tired at the end."

Man-of-the-Match Branthwaite netted his maiden senior goal for the Club on his first Premier League start since July 2020, having spent last season on loan at Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers.

The 19-year-old became Everton's 19th teenage goalscorer in the Premier League era, applying a cool finish to Gordon's sumptuous free-kick delivery to level proceedings in the 74th minute.

The Carlisle-born defender was equally as impressive at the other end of the pitch, too, winning four duels and completing 12 defensive recoveries at the heart of the defence.

"When we spoke amongst the staff, we said he is doing well, he is getting better so it's a question of giving him a chance," said Benitez on Branthwaite.

"Normally, these kind of games are quite difficult - and it was difficult for him and for everyone in defence - but he did well. 

"He showed character and he's a player who has potential. 

"Always with the young players, you have to be careful but you have to give them a chance if it is possible."

The manager also singled out Kenny, deployed as a wing-back on the evening, as a perfect example of the attitude he desires from his squad.

"I have a special appreciation for Jonjoe, because he knows - we had a conversation at the beginning, we had a conversation a couple of months ago and we had a conversation last week, talking about how well he trains, how professional he is, how good he is with his teammates every time and he knows exactly his situation," explained Benitez.

"He told me, 'I am ready' and I said, 'I know', I told him not to be worried because he was going to play and I was confident he would do well. 

"In terms of his physicality, he's not played so he's fit but didn't have that match fitness, but he is so professional. 

"I am really pleased for him."

After Sunday's scheduled visit of Leicester City was postponed by the Premier League following a COVID-19 outbreak in the Foxes' squad, the Blues face an extended break before returning to action with a trip to Burnley on Boxing Day.

And Benitez is hopeful the list of casualties will reduce in time for the clash with Sean Dyche's side.

"The first thing is to control the virus everywhere," he added, when asked about plans for the coming week. "We will take all the measure we need to to ensure we protect as many people as we can, then we will continue training and we will have some time to work.

"Hopefully we can bring some players back - Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] is closer, we will see if Tom Davies is also closer and we have some time to recover Seamus [Coleman] and Allan. 

"Hopefully it will be a good time for us. 

"Still, we will be missing players but at least some of them will come back and they can give us more competition."