New Blues Sandro Ramirez and Jordan Pickford are set for their first Everton starts in Saturday’s pre-season friendly at RKC Genk.
The summer signings joined up with the squad for the first time on Monday after being given extra time off due to their participation in the Under-21 European Championship in Poland last month for Spain and England respectively.
Forward Sandro – a signing from La Liga side Malaga – and goalkeeper Pickford – who joined the Toffees from Sunderland in a Club-record deal which could potentially rise to £30million – have been training all week at Everton’s pre-season base in east Holland.
On the back of friendly wins over Gor Mahia in Tanzania and FC Twente on Wednesday, the squad moves on to Belgium on Saturday, with manager Ronald Koeman revealing the duo will make their Blues bows at Genk (3pm kick-off UK time, 4pm local time).
“Pickford and Sandro will start tomorrow and then we will see how long they will play, maybe 45 or a maximum of 60 minutes,” Koeman told evertontv.
“The starting team will play what most players did on Wednesday – 60 to 65 minutes. Then I will make many changes. We will show what we did well against Twente. We need to improve and it’s always about getting that intensity to be well prepared for next week.
“The first friendly saw good intensity from the players. I was really pleased with our second half on Wednesday against Twente. Genk will be another challenge tomorrow as they are further into their pre-season than we are and that type of game is what you need to prepare for the start of the season.
“It’s going well. I’m very happy about the commitment of all the players and the staff. We have a really good location for our third week of the pre-season and the new players are doing well. We had good friendlies in Tanzania and against Twente and we’re looking forward to maybe the most difficult game so far against Genk because they are one week off the start of the season and that means they are further on than we are.”
After being appointed as Everton manager in June 2016, Koeman has been able to plan Everton’s summer preparations in full this time around, taking the Blues to a base in east Holland where he has previously been as manager of Ajax, Feyenoord and Southampton.
The Dutchman believes the location has laid the foundations for a positive pre-season. And he insists his players’ fitness levels will mean they will be ready to go for next week’s Europa League opener.
“Our training base is a quiet place,” said Koeman. “The training pitch is behind the hotel, you don’t need a coach to travel. We had a one-hour flight, it was 10 minutes to the hotel. After the game tomorrow we will be back early in Liverpool. The pitch is good quality, the food is amazing in this hotel, all the facilities are only used by Everton and I think it’s the best way to prepare your team for the season.
“Our fitness levels are really good. The stats showed us that when the players came back from holiday their physical level was still the same from the time they went on holiday and that’s really good behaviour of the players. They know the intensity of the training and it’s a big difference to last season. Then I was the new manager and now we know each other really well. I know their character and it’s better now than it was last season.”
On landing MFK Ružomberok – Everton’s opponents in the Europa League third qualifying round after the Slovakian team edged SK Brann on Thursday – the former Barcelona defender added: “I was a little bit surprised! I watched the first game (against SK Brann) on the computer and it was a good result for the Norwegian team but we didn’t expect yesterday’s result. We know it will be a difficult trip but we play at home on Thursday and we need to be prepared to get a good result.
“It will be good. It’s important to have that atmosphere in the stadium. We’ve got the new faces in and it is an exciting time for Everton. Everybody is looking forward to the new season and it’s important to start off with a good result next week.”