Andre Gomes is striving to reach full fitness and make a major contribution to Everton’s season.
Midfielder Gomes’ comeback from a serious ankle injury stalled when football was postponed in March.
And talking to Everton’s matchday programme for this weekend’s visit of Leeds United, Gomes conceded he was still playing catch up after a disrupted 12 months.
The Portuguese had started two matches after a speedy return from surgery when the 2019/20 season was stopped.
He featured regularly for manager Carlo Ancelotti post-lockdown but after beginning Everton’s opening three Premier League games this term has played in two of the past six fixtures.
“The truth is, I am still trying to find my best feeling, to get fit, to get ready to be 100 per cent for all the game,” said Gomes.
“In the past months, with the pandemic, it was hard for me physically.
“A lot of details can change, my body shape or how fit I feel.
“When we came back after the first lockdown, I had a really small injury in one place, then something else in another place, because I was trying to compensate coming from the big injury.
“I was trying to get fit and regain power.
“We had a small pre-season before nine games in two months. Then we had a short break and another small pre-season, when I needed minutes.
“It would have been perfect for me to have all that time to recover and prepare in a normal way.
“Now, I am working to get as fit as I can and trying to feel better, trying to be confident when we are playing.
“But, more than anything else, I am trying to improve physically.”
Gomes talks openly about a range of issues in an in-depth feature interview.
The 27-year-old concedes his encounter with serious injury forced a change in his personality for the better.
He was personally affected by the pandemic when his maternal grandmother – who lived in the family home Gomes left to join Benfica aged 17 – passed away in September and the player was prevented from travelling to be with his family.
Gomes, whose initial return as a substitute at Arsenal in February came 112 days after being hurt in a game against Tottenham Hotspur, watched Everton’s past two matches from the bench following his most recent appearance at Newcastle United four weeks ago.
“You want to play, so if you don’t, you will be upset – otherwise it is bad, right?” said Gomes.
“But Carlo [Ancelotti] wants to talk with you and for you to understand what is going on.
“Sometimes, other players are doing better… that is how it is now.
“But the most important thing [when you are not playing] is the manager likes to be really close to the players.
“It doesn’t matter if it is players who play, who are on the bench or in the stand – he speaks with everyone.
“It makes you feel comfortable with what he is saying.
“All the players are important at different points but only 11 can start.
“It is part of my job to do my best to get back in the side.
“It has been hard this season.
“I came from a big injury and tried to get in perfect shape and feel really good on the pitch and work on that.
“I want to help the team achieve the goals we expect for this year.”
Read the full interview with Andre Gomes in Everton's matchday programme for Saturday's Premier League meeting with Leeds United.
Another edition packed with exclusive content features an interview with former Everton goalkeeper Dai Davies, who talks about his diagnosis with terminal cancer in June this year and reflects on a colourful life and career.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti and Seamus Coleman, Everton's captain, write on a number of subjects in their respective notes and there is news from around the Club with the Women, Under-23s and Under-18s teams all covered.