“I’m expecting us to improve” - Rafa Benitez wants to build on Everton’s battling draw at Leeds

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Demarai Gray were on target to continue the Toffees’ unbeaten start the the Premier League season.

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Everton boss Rafa Benitez. Picture: Marc Atkins/ Getty Images Everton boss Rafa Benitez. Picture: Marc Atkins/ Getty Images
Everton boss Rafa Benitez. Picture: Marc Atkins/ Getty Images

Rafa Benitez praised Everton’s battling qualities to pick up a deserved point against Leeds United but rued some missed opportunities in front of goal.

The Toffees continued their unbeaten start to the 2021-22 Premier League season with a 2-2 draw at Elland Road on Saturday.

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The visitors led twice, through a Dominic Calvert-Lewin penalty on the half-hour and Demarai Gray’s first goal for the club in the 50th minute.

But Marcelo Bielsa’s troops responded on each occasion through Mateusz Klich and Raphina.

Benitez felt Everton had chances to win the game, with Calvert-Lewin spurning a golden chance to give his side a two-goal cushion only moments after Gray’s intervention.

But the Toffees boss was satisfied the spoils were shared.

Benitez said: “I think Leeds were pushing from the beginning, but we reacted well, especially in the second half – we had, little-by-little, more chances.

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“We’ve had 17 attempts away from home, some really clear chances. Overall we did well against a good team. Hopefully we can continue,” he told Match of the Day.

“Bielsa has been working with his team for three years, we’ve had six weeks here so I’m expecting us to improve but I was really pleased.”

Missed opportunity

"We had the chance to score the third goal and maybe we could be talking about something different,” the Everton boss told the club’s website.

“I am really pleased, because of the way we did in the first game, the reaction of the players [Everton beat Southampton after trailing 1-0], and today, the way we were pushing and working so hard from the beginning until the end.

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“We were adjusting our position on the pitch to control the match better. Then, we had more chances, the positions were more dangerous, and we were maybe close to winning the game.

"But, overall, I think the result is fair

“We could see [against Southampton] how good our fans were for us and we could see, today, how good Leeds’ fans were for them.

“In terms of the mentality, the way our team was battling against all the things around, I am really pleased with that.”

Gray’s rampant start

Gray has made an impressive start at Goodison Park after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen for £1.7 million earlier this summer.

Demari Gray celebrates his goal for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty ImagesDemari Gray celebrates his goal for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Demari Gray celebrates his goal for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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He caught the eye on his debut in the 3-1 win over Southampton on the opening day of the season before delivering a man-of-the-match performance against Leeds.

On Gray’s opening to his Everton career, Benitez said: “I don’t like to talk too much about individuals but I think he is doing well.

“The main thing he gives us is competition in the wide area and up front.

“That is good for the team. It will be good for him playing at this level but it will be good for the team because, the others, they have to push and see if they can do as well as him to be in the team.”

Cool Calvert-Lewin

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Calvert-Lewis bagged his second goal in as many matches at Elland Road.

After winning a penalty when hauled down by Leeds defender Liam Cooper, he dusted himself down to fire the spot-kick home.

Calvert-Lewin was assigned Everton’s penalty taker at the beginning of the campaign - and was glad he repaid Benitez’s faith shown in him.

The England international said: “It’s something I’ve wanted for a while. I’ve been ready to step in and take that responsibility.

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“I spoke to the manager before the first game of the season, we had that conversation. He put me on the pens and thankfully I put one away against Leeds.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates scoring his penalty for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Jan Kruger/ Getty Images Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates scoring his penalty for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Jan Kruger/ Getty Images
Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates scoring his penalty for Everton against Leeds. Picture: Jan Kruger/ Getty Images

“It’s what you practise, practise and practise for, but nothing can replicate taking it in front of a packed stadium.

“I actually didn’t hear the whistle because it was so loud! That’s why I looked at the referee [before taking it] because I didn’t know if he had blown his whistle or not.

“Then I just reset and took the penalty. It’s just about holding your nerve.”

What’s next

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Everton return to action on Tueday night when they travel to Huddersfield Town in the second round of the Carabao Cup.

Benitez is likely to make changes for the clash against the Championship side. The likes of Asmir Begovic, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Tom Davies and Jarrad Branthwaite could all feature.

The Toffees then make the trip to face Brighton and Hove Albion, who have won both of their first two games of the season, in the Premier League on Saturday, August 28 (15.00).

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