Roberto Martinez has confirmed that Leighton Baines will return to the Everton squad for Saturday's trip to Bournemouth after missing the entire season to date after ankle surgery.
The 30-year-old England defender returned to training earlier this month and has played in a behind-closed-doors friendly as well as for the U21s in an attempt to regain match fitness.
Martinez has confirmed that Baines is fully recovered from his injury but suggested he may not be ready to be thrown straight into the action, perhaps as much for psychological reasons as for physical ones.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Martinez said:
"Physically, Leighton is ready but it is about giving him the right introduction. More than anything it’s about getting his confidence back of going into a 50-50 challenge without feeling fearful.
"When you get an injury in the manner he got his, just blocking a simple ball, we need to be careful to get his confidence back and prepare his body to be really strong.
"We’ll take it day by day but it has been good to see him in training. The energy that he brings is very impressive.
"We’ll assess it and make a decision tomorrow [Friday] whether he will be in the squad or not."
Given Bournemouth's predicament it is unlikely they will be nothing other than 100% committed, so if Baines does have some mental barriers to overcome it may not be wise to throw him straight in on Saturday.
That isn't discounting his excellent fitness record prior to this injury of course. Baines has a high level of natural fitness and professionalism so you can be sure he has completed his rehabilitation properly. However, it would certainly represent a gamble on the manager's part.
There's then the bonus of Brendan Galloway, who has kept his place a left-back since Baines originally picked up his injury last May.
Galloway may lack the attacking instincts of Baines but defensively he has not let the team down. Indeed he has grown in confidence with each passing week with his game beginning to mirror that of John Stones - an exciting prospect indeed.
With that I mind I would be wary of introducing Baines too early, instead giving him a handful of substitute appearances to build up match fitness.
In the past the paucity of Everton's squad has required players to be patched up and thrown onto the field as quickly as possible, certainly during the David Moyes era.
But now we have the luxury of strength in depth (in certain positions) it's time to use it properly, affording Baines the time to get fully up and running and so giving him the best chance of staying injury for the rest of the season.