By Joe Ellis

11th Jan, 2022 | 8:10am

Everton Under-23s show Benitez and first-team how to do it

Rafael Benitez has been struggling for some time at Everton and his recent switch to a back five hasn’t improved things, despite progress in the FA Cup.

The players looked uncertain even against Championship side Hull City before changing the system for extra time when Andros Townsend sent the Toffees through.

But the back five problems seem to be exclusive to the first team as David Unsworth’s Under-23s have enjoyed success in the same tactic.

Most recently, the Under-23 side were twice pegged back by Crystal Palace in a 2-2 draw in Premier League 2 but the performance was more telling than the result.

Academy coach Jose Baxter told the ECHO after the match: “With Mackenzie [Hunt] and Ryan [Astley] as wing-backs they get forward, they’re a real threat, but you also see with some of their recovery runs, their defending is excellent.

“They’re really buying into what we’re doing and you can see that with performances. Uns [David Unsworth] and John [Ebbrell] are putting some great stuff into them on the training pitch.”

You have to ask the question as to why the Under-23s are able to adapt to this new system so much easier than the multi-million-pound first-team.

Maybe Benitez needs to call upon Unsworth and Ebbrell to come in and coach the senior players as they have with the youngsters if Everton are to continue with this system.

The other alternative is to give these youngsters a chance in the first-team although with a relegation fight not out of the question, it would be a huge risk to take.

But with great risk comes great reward and maybe there are one or two gems just waiting for their chance.

Reece Welch in particular looked commanding at the heart of the five-man defence on Monday (10 January) while the goals were scored by Stan Mills and Isaac Price, minutes after coming on for Mills.

In other Everton news, the club wouldn’t be ready for the uproar if they signed a former favourite according to this reliable journalist.