Rafael Benitez is off to the perfect start as Everton manager, with his team coming from behind to beat Southampton in front of an ecstatic Goodison Park.
As Goodison welcomed back fans for the first time since 1 March 2020, the former Liverpool boss received a warm reception before kick-off which led to a positive start.
But the fervent atmosphere soon turned when Michael Keane gifted an opener for Saints debutant Adam Armstrong, who joined from Blackburn earlier this week, as he latched on to Che Adams’ ball to curl into the top corner.
Everton struggled for the rest of the first half, but Benitez’s decision to put Richarlison up front paid off immediately after the break as he poked home from debutant Andros Townsend’s header.
Benitez’s side, who were without the isolating James Rodriguez, then sent their fans delirious with two goals in the space of five minutes.
First, Abdoulaye Doucoure turned in the penalty box before smashing into the top corner.
And Benitez’s tactical switch proved a masterstroke as Richarlison, fresh from an Olympic gold medal with Brazil at Tokyo 2020, crossed for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to score with a diving header at the near post.
Afterwards, Benitez stated: “Thanks to the fans for the support for me and for the team. It’s an important situation this year with the fans behind us – I think it’ll be important for us.
“We know it’s the beginning and we have to improve, but we’re really pleased with the reaction of the team and the support of the fans.
“At half-time we changed the position of the centre-backs and the position of Richarlison. But you always have to have a little bit of luck.
“Playing Richarlison wasn’t a gamble – he was fine. We gave him one day to rest and made sure he was OK. He scored, so everyone’s happy.
“Obviously I think the performance is the key. It means we’re together. If you do all these things and you lose, it’ll be more difficult.”