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How Rafa Benitez replaced missing James Rodriguez creativity

Rafa Benitez has an Everton side without James Rodriguez. How has he managed to keep the side so creative, then?

James Rodriguez is an Everton player but very much not in the plans of Rafa Benitez. The Colombian hasn’t played at all this season, after all, while the clubs supposedly tried to sell him over the summer.

It’s a strange situation for Everton. They have a £220k-a-week player on their books but don’t utilise him. On top of that, they’re playing very well.

You’d instantly imagine a side lacking Rodriguez to be quite un-creative. After all, the player was Everton’s most creative last season. Per Sky Sports, he ranked 1st at the club for both chances created and expected assists last season.

But the stats say Everton are the fifth-most creative side in the Premier League this season. They average over 12 key passes per game, marginally behind Arsenal (12.3 to 12.8). Only Liverpool, Manchester City and Wolves average more than 12.

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How has Benitez managed that then?

Rafa Benitez without James Rodriguez

The answer is fairly simple – Benitez has Everton creating from all over the pitch. Per Whoscored, the team has eight players averaging at least one created chance per game.

Those players include a left-back, two centre-midfielders, four wingers and a striker. In fact, Michael Keane is on 0.8 per game – perhaps he can join this group soon.

By comparison, Manchester United – who sit just below Everton as the sixth-most creative – have just five players averaging at least one.

What’s so encouraging about this is that Benitez is only four games in. Having a team all creating for one another is a wonderful thing but it usually takes time to build that cohesion. This group is finding it right away, however.

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Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend should, with any luck, only improve these numbers as they get to know their teammates better. And from there, two things could happen.

Everton may just be a side that can create from everywhere. But there’s also that slim chance that Benitez still finds a place for Rodriguez in this team. If so, an already creative side could have an injection of further creativity.

And that could leave make them very dangerous.

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