Everton against time to justify decision ‘Rafa Benitez believed to have not wanted’

Anwar El Ghazi made just two appearances for Everton since arriving on loan from Aston Villa in the January transfer window.

The inevitable Everton departure of Lucas Digne took no-one by surprise.

But what perhaps did take fans aback was that, only a day later, Anwar El Ghazi arrived from the other direction.

A disappointing makeweight

Aston Villa coughed up £23 million to end Digne's time at Goodison following an off-field dispute with then-manager Rafa Benitez.

It was an exit that split supporters. Some rued the fact that a France international and one of the Premier League's top left-backs was allowed to leave.

Others felt selling a 28-year-old for a high fee to ease financial fair play woes was prudent.

However, large sections of supporters were in agreement that El Ghazi, who seemed like a makeweight for Digne, was unlikely to help drag Everton from their growingly concerning predicament.

Granted, El Ghazi had scored 10 goals for Villa upon their return to the Premier League in the 2020-21 season.

Still, there were burning questions around whether El Ghazi would be any sort of improvement on the Blues' options.

At the time of his arrival, it wasn't the wide areas where Everton were struggling.

Lucas Digne of Everton looks on during the Premier League match (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Ample options

Summer signings Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend were proving sound acquisitions for a combined £1.7 million.

Anthony Gordon was making boundless improvements.

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin returning to full fitness, Richarlison then became someone who could be shifted onto the flank.

And despite being much maligned by some supporters, Alex Iwobi could function as a winger.

In truth, there were more important areas of the squad that needed addressing.

Everton may have gone on and swooped for Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli on January transfer deadline day after Frank Lampard took over in the hot seat.

Bigger priorities

However, at the time of El Ghazi's signing, and even afterwards, the Toffees were in desperate need of an out-and-out defensive midfielder with ball-carrying prowess.

There was also a strong argument that an additional centre-back was required. Yerry Mina's fitness was a huge concern, while Michael Keane, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey had all endured difficult periods of their own.

Youngster Jarrad Branthwaite was also suffering from a lack of first-team minutes to aid his promising potential.

Indeed, fans aplenty predicted that bringing in El Ghazi would largely be futile - especially as he would take up one of two domestic loans Premier League clubs permitted.

Overall, it felt like a switch that would benefit Villa’s ambitions plans of clambering up the table rather than Everton. Steven Gerrard was afforded the chance to clear some of the wage bill to bring in Digne and Philippe Coutinho.

Regardless of who rubberstamped the move, doubts about how effective El Ghazi would prove in a potential relegation battle, so far, have come true.

On the periphery

To date, he has totalled just two appearances - and managed 11 minutes of football.

Granted, El Ghazi has been ineligible for three FA Cup games and the clash against parent club Villa.

Yet he's been unused in four other matches and was not on the bench for the 1-0 defeat of Newcastle United.

To compound frustrations, Everton have subsequently lost Mina to a long-term quad injury.

And the need for additional defensive cover is stark, with the rearguard proving pregnable, to say the least.

Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Allan is now suspended for two games, Fabian Delph remains injured and Abdoulaye Doucoure has struggled for form in recent matches.

What's more, Andre Gomes has proved disappointing when given chances and Alli's still to make his mark.

The season-ending Townsend suffered in the 4-0 FA Cup loss, in theory, should open up more chances for El Ghazi as Everton bid to retain their Premier League status in the final 11 games.

Andros Townsend limps off during Everton’s FA Cup loss to Crystal Palace. Picture: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

However, given the Toffees remain well stocked in the department. With Alli able to play out wide if required, it's difficult to see El Ghazi's situation changing.

Townsend hadn't exactly been a regular before his cruel ACL setback, either.

The last time he started a league game was the 3-1 loss away to Newcastle on 5 February.

Time is running out for Everton to justify exactly why a deal for El Ghazi was given the green light.

Should Lampard’s outfit suffer the drop, significant scrutiny will be placed on the rationale behind bringing him in.