Everton travel to Hull City for their FA Cup Third Round clash today with question marks continuing to swirl around the availability of key players of the squad. Speaking during his pre-match press conference yesterday, Rafa Benitez seemed to indicate that Dominic Calvert-Lewin would not be risked after appearing to tweak something in his return game last Sunday.
When asked if the pair of newly-signed fullbacks Vitaliy Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson would make their debuts, the Spaniard sounded cautious.
“We have another session today and need to see how they [Patterson and Mykolenko] train. Maybe one or both can start… but they had been 15 days without training, so we have to consider if they are fit enough for an important game like this.
“Both players have shown they want to do well and perform. If we have to play them, they can play, but in terms of fitness… we have to consider all the aspects.
“They are young full-backs, with energy and desire and passion and, hopefully, they can give us something right now. But we are not just thinking now, we are thinking about the future.
“If they come now and make an impact, I will be really pleased because we are in a difficult position in the table, but we expect they will be here for, maybe, ten years and be key players like Seamus Coleman has been all this time.”
This season is showing all signs of rapidly going down the tubes with the Blues having picked up only three points of the last thirty-six on offer in the Premier League, but even an embattled Benitez knows a long FA Cup run would certainly lift spirits.
“Every game is massive and I know how important the Cup is for the Club and our fans. If we can do well in some games, we’ll have more confidence and it will be easier to approach the next games.
“We have experience of what it means for [lower league] teams to play against Premier League sides. It will be tough, for sure, but we are ready.
“I was pleased with the training session yesterday. The players were pushing and working hard. They realise after the Brighton game we have to perform and do well. Mentally, we are ready.”
The Toffees have been notoriously slow starters in recent months and will be challenged to quieten a home crowd that will be smelling an upset in the making. If recent indications are any sign, Benitez will once again opt for a two-man midfield and an intelligent manager would be well-prepared to take advantage of a struggling opponent.