Rafa Benitez says he will be forced to take risks with his players’ fitness after Everton have had a request to postpone their Boxing Day clash with Burnley rejected by the Premier League.
Benitez revealed that the club is without 11 players through injury or illness, with five of those positive Covid-19 cases, but the game is still set to continue.
He added that one player tested positive the Chelsea game, which has since spread to four more players.
It means he is left with nine fit senior outfield players, plus three goalkeepers, for the game at Turf Moor, supplemented by youngsters.
There is no exact number of positive cases needed for a game to be postponed, with the Premier League deciding on a club-by-club basis, though this has led to accusations of inconsistent decision making.
Premier League clubs on Monday decided to continue with the festive fixtures despite the surge in cases. If a club is deemed to have 13 outfield players fit for the game plus three goalkeepers then it should not be called off.
However, Benitez rightly points out that a number of his team are carrying knocks or are short on match fitness, including Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has not played since August, meaning he is taking huge risks with his players’ fitness and welfare.
He added that he believes some clubs are not following the rules to minimise the risk of the virus spreading at training grounds, meaning Everton are being unfairly punished for doing so.
Speaking about the issue at his Burnley preview news conference, Benitez said:
“We have six injuries and five players with Covid. I think it is not fair.
We were expecting the game to be postponed like the others.So I am really surprised that the game is going ahead.
My main job now is to have 11 players who can compete in the right positions against Burnley. It is not easy. If you have players coming back from covid, you have to take control of them. What will happen if something is wrong?”
Benitez confirmed that he will attend a Premier League managers meeting late on Thursday where he will again voice his concerns.
The Spaniard says his preparations for the game are all over the place because he does not know how many players he will have available on a day-to-day basis.
“It is very clear it is not a perfect situation.
Burnley is totally different than Chelsea. The reality is that we have to deal with a difficult situation. We have to wait until tomorrow, the day after, for injuries and covid and see which players are available.
“The risk to have someone around with the virus is quite big. It’s a surprise that we’re still playing.
“The numbers said we could play but in reality it was a big risk. You can close the training ground for two days. We were trying to do the right things and maybe we will be punished for that.
“It’s tough for all our staff. We don’t know who is available on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes it’s a nightmare because we have to call the U23s and bring more players in.
“We try to do everything right, we follow all the rules, including three dressing rooms, lateral flows every day and I know some other teams don’t do that. So maybe we are punished for that.
“But what we cannot control is if you go to a game and a player does not have an symptoms, he spread it to the other players.
“How can you avoid the dressing room? All the team have to be together. Do we have enough dates to move the games and play twice a week? I don’t know.
“Money is managing the game and it’s complicated to find the right solution.
“Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been out for two months, how can we manage him? Make him play 90 minutes with a massive risk of injury?
“It’s quite dangerous for us because of the circumstances of this game, we have to play players who are not ready or have knocks, or in the wrong position.”
Benitez’s frustration was obvious during the news conference, and you can understand why.
It is a tricky situation to manage and with the Premier League deciding whether to postpone games on an individual basis means there will be some clubs who feel hard done by.
Everton’s plight is exacerbated by their lengthy injury list, and the Premier League will point out that they cannot have a game postponed because of injuries.
However, I don’t think looking at the number of Covid cases alone is a fair measure, given the extra strain it will put on the other players.
There is still a chance the game will be called off - I’d say one or two more positive cases would do it. But if not it is once again likely to be a makeshift, ramshackle starting XI that takes to the field at Turf Moor.