Everton Boss On DCL Risk

Rafa Benitez is weighing up how to use the fit-again Dominic Calvert-Lewin in Everton's Boxing Day meeting with Burnley.

Manager Benitez is contending with a missing list that reached double figures after five players tested positive for COVID following last week’s draw with Chelsea to add to a host of injury absences. 

But, as things stand, Everton are set to visit Turf Moor aiming to underline a recent upswing in form after the point obtained at Stamford Bridge added to a stirring come-from-behind victory over Arsenal a fortnight ago.

And Burnley’s home ground could provide the setting for Calvert-Lewin’s much-anticipated return from a quadriceps injury.

Benitez, however, insists even that boost is heavily caveated, with Everton very reluctant to thrust their England striker into a high-intensity, 90-minute contest so early in his comeback following four months on the sidelines.

“I am pleased to have him back but it is quite dangerous for us,” said Benitez.

“We have to play players who are maybe not fit, so who will take responsibility if something happens because these players after some months might have to play 90 minutes?

 “We are exposing them… my main job now is to find 11 players in the right positions who can compete against Burnley.

Rafa Benitez
We have to play players who are maybe not fit, so who will take responsibility if something happens because these players after some months might have to play 90 minutes?

“It is a difficult decision for us but I am happy to see Dominic training with the team and, hopefully, he will be fine.

"We have nine outfield players available plus three keepers and we have to bring in five young players who seem to have enough experience to play in the Premier League.

"The reality is some of these players, like Dominic, have been out for months, so we have players with knocks but have to push them."

Issues resulting from players dropping out of contention are spilling over into preparations, confided Benitez, who is conducting daily pre-training meetings to stay on top of a fast-moving situation.

Any further problems for individuals, he says, will leave Everton short of the numbers required to fulfil the Burnley fixture.

If the game goes ahead, the focus for Benitez is on repeating the “commitment and focus and intensity” summoned by a green Everton side against European champions Chelsea.

Benitez’s young team secured an against-the-odds draw after 19-year-old Jarrad Branthwaite pounced for his first Everton goal.

“I was pleased for him because he was training really well for the last two or three weeks,” added Benitez.

 “I was convinced he could do well.

 “The fact he scored the goal is really good news for him and for his confidence.

“I am expecting he will do well but we are talking about young players who need some time to settle down in the Premier League.

"I was really delighted with the performance of the team at Chelsea.

"You can win or lose or draw but it was the team spirit and the way the players were working on the pitch, the commitment of everyone.

"This game [Burnley] will be totally different but what we are expecting is the same commitment and focus and intensity.

"If we get that, we will have more chances to win games and be in a good position.

"The fans were really pleased with the reaction of the team.

"Hopefully we can see the same in the next game, if we play this weekend."

The Premier League confirmed two Boxing Day postponements shortly before Benitez’s pre-match press conference on Thursday.

“I’m really surprised this game is going ahead, with all the cases we have and the injuries,” continued Benitez.

“We follow all the rules.

“We do lateral flow tests, PCR tests, wear masks, we even have the players in three separate changing rooms… to be sure we reduce the time they are together.

“But we cannot control if you go to a game and the player is positive and has no symptoms, because he can pass the virus to others.

“That’s what happened when we played against Chelsea.

"With the injuries and the positives we have, we were expecting the [Burnley] game to be postponed... [to] try to keep the integrity of the league, because you are losing so many players."