In what is traditionally the busiest time of the season, a slew of postponed games due to COVID and injuries has meant Everton have had a welcome 17-day break. The Toffees’ last game was a 1-1 draw away at Chelsea and will return to action on Sunday (fingers crossed) at home against Brighton & Hove Albion. Games against Leicester City and Newcastle, and away at Burnley have had to be postponed, and will contribute to some fixture congestion later on in spring but for now it has bought Rafa Benitez valuable time to get an arm-long list of players back to full fitness.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference today ahead of the Seagulls visit, the manager confirmed without naming any names that the game would go ahead from the Everton side as he had enough players to meet the minimum quotas for a matchday squad.
“Do you know any family in England Covid-free? We are getting better. Obviously we’ve had issues with the COVID, players with problems are coming back and training. We cannot give names or numbers, in terms of Covid we have less problems.
“In terms of injuries we are bringing players back. Still we have some issues but we are much better now. We have enough players and we want to play. When you cannot, you cannot, but when you have the possibility to play you want to play.
“Players that were injured, little by little they’re coming back. We don’t want to take a risk with some of them, but they’re nearly there. In terms of positions now we can play, at least we can have some balance on the pitch.”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was expected to return on Boxing Day, and was spotted in training pictures earlier today, would he be starting?
“Dominic is training with the team. One thing is match fitness, which you can improve playing games. In the fitness way he is getting better, but match fitness, we will see. Maybe he scores three goals in the first half and we don’t need to worry about his match fitness.
“The issue will be how long he can play if he starts the game, or if he comes from the bench how much impact he can be in the game. He is training well and is happy to play and to score goals.”
The transfer window opens tomorrow, and the manager was asked if Everton will be active during the period and how involved they can be, especially with no Director of Football in place now and Benitez overseeing the whole transfer process.
“We are working hard. We are trying to find some targets to improve the team. Everybody knows how difficult the January transfer window is. In talking with different teams, everybody is a little bit worried about Covid-19, no-one wants to spend too much money. Everyone wants players but on loan, with no obligations.
“That is complicated but still we are working. I am quite happy and confident that we will do two or three things. With the revision of the club’s structure, I talk with the Board about names and they tell me issues, agents are throwing names all the time so we are in contact with clubs but it’s not just me, the Board and club are also looking for the right options.
“You sign what you can, not what you want. This window is especially complicated with the Covid, the money is not there. Not everybody has a lot of money to spend so we have to be careful when we buy, sell or loan players.”
With not much financial wiggle room, what can the fans expect from the transfer window?
“I said when I came here that I knew the fans, the team and the club. It’s exactly the same now. I knew what we were looking for in August, we were talking about wingers and some positions. We are working to find the right players not just for the present but also the future. There are some positions we have identified that we must improve.
“We are trying to be sure he have chances to improve. What can the fans expect? Two or three players, and players who want to be here.
Is Calvert-Lewin’s return like a new signing for the Blues?
“I can say that it’s a massive signing for us for the second part of the league. When you look at the top scorers of last year, none of them are playing this year. If we bring him back and a few weeks later we bring back Richarlison, and we have more options there with Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend.
“We can think about the second part of the league as something totally different with new signings and hopefully we will see the difference.”
Andros Townsend’s form has badly tailed off since making a hot start, and Benitez revealed that the player is making his way back to fitness after sustaining an injury.
“We were bringing in wingers, at the start of the season were making a lot of crosses. It’s true, missing Dominic — a great player in the air — for any winger is a big loss.
“Andros is injured and pushing really hard to be fit. He has an injury, a broken bone in his ankle, but even when he has some pain he’s pushing. I was just watching him training with the fitness coach. He wants to train tomorrow and to be available.
“That is the kind of character I like in this team, people even when they have some issues pushing and trying to be on the pitch. If he’s fit he will be delighted to see Dominic on the end of his crosses.”