Sam Allardyce says the return to action of Ramiro Funes Mori is a big boost for Everton and the defender adds valuable experience to the Toffees squad.
Argentina international Funes Mori played his first competitive football for more than one year when he came on for the final 14 minutes of the Blues' 1-1 draw with Swansea City last week.
The 27-year-old was inches from applying what could have been a match-winning touch to a late Leighton Baines free-kick in south Wales and is poised to be included in the matchday party for Monday night’s visit of Newcastle United.
Victory over Rafael Benitez’s team would move Everton four points clear of the Magpies, with Allardyce determined to ensure his side finish the campaign strongly.
The manager has a deep pool of centre-halves to choose from, with Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane currently forming a solid partnership in the middle of the back four, Ashley Williams available after suspension, and Funes Mori set to be joined back in action by Mason Holgate – who Allardyce has revealed could return from an ankle operation before the end of the season.
“I am very enthusiastic [about Funes Mori’s comeback], he has trained with the first team since returning from his injury,” Allardyce told evertontv.
“He came off the bench and, when needed, I feel we will give him his opportunity. It is good to have a player of his experience back in his squad.
“We have a responsibility to finish the season well and make everybody feel better after what has been a difficult campaign.
“It is unfortunate we have to wait until Monday night to play because we are eager to get on with it. We want to make sure we try to win the match and do not let Newcastle sneak above us.”
A minor injury forced Dominic Calvert-Lewin out of the trip to Swansea after the striker had featured in each of Everton’s previous six matches. The 21-year-old has played 43 times this season, more than any of his teammates, and is likely to be fit to face the Magpies.
Calvert-Lewin was replaced by Nikola Vlasic in the Blues squad at the Liberty Stadium, with the Croat attacker introduced in place of Wayne Rooney for the closing minutes of the match, as Everton hunted a decisive goal.
It was a 17th Toffees appearance – and 10th in the Premier League – for Vlasic following his move from Hajduk Split back in August.
And his manager is urging the 20-year-old to consistently produce the high standard of performance of which he is capable – and would see him compete for an established place in the team.
“Nikola is young and came from abroad and I do not think he envisaged how tough this Premier League would be – nobody does until they get here,” said Allardyce.
“He has tried his very best. When he plays... it is about consistency. We see the ability. If that ability comes to fruition more often and on a more regular basis he will be pushing very hard for a place in the first team.
“Dominic had a hip problem which has cleared up and he took part in a full training session on Thursday.”