Everton midfielder Ross Barkley will resume first-team training next week, but his return has been offset considerably by the loss of defender John Stones for more than three months.
England international Barkley was sidelined by a knee ligament injury on the eve of the Barclays Premier League season but is now potentially just a fortnight away from making a competitive return.
While that is positive news for Toffees boss Roberto Martinez, Stones’ ankle problem – sustained against Manchester United at the weekend – is a significant blow to a defence which, after criticism this campaign, cannot afford to lose someone of the 20-year-old’s quality for such a length of time.
“On Monday we expect Ross, with the green light from the medical department, to join the group,” Martinez said.
“Now it’s a matter of getting him match fitness and getting him up to speed.
“Ross has been working really well and I don’t expect any setbacks. I expect Ross to have a real clear path to get his match fitness back.
“One of Ross’ biggest strengths is his physicality and how strong he is sometimes helps in terms of getting his match fitness.
“But he has been out for a while and we need to give him the right work now to make sure he is at his very best.
“From Monday I want him to be part of it and in probably a couple of weeks we should be able to see Ross in the squad.
“His desire and hunger to be in the team is contagious, and that is something I want to have with the group.
“He’ll be like a fresh, new player for us.”
While Barkley will give Everton an extra dimension going forward, it is at the back where Martinez had problems – even before the Stones setback. Full-back Seamus Coleman has not played since mid-September and centre-back Sylvain Distin has missed the last three matches with injury.
“John will need surgery. We expect him to be out for probably the next 10 to 14 weeks depending on how everything goes,” the Spaniard told evertonfc.com.
“Obviously, it’s a little bit of a setback because you don’t want to lose any players, but in John’s case we were very worried in the moment that it happened because those injuries can become a little bit difficult to treat.
“But this one is going to be straightforward and we are already counting down the days for him to come back and we’ll make sure he comes back stronger and ready for the final and most important part of the season.”
Distin is likely to return for the visit of Aston Villa when the league campaign resumes a week on Saturday, but doubts remain over Coleman and midfielder James McCarthy (thigh), while forward Kevin Mirallas (hamstring) is out for a few more weeks and striker Arouna Kone has still to feature in a matchday squad after a knee operation last October.
“Sylvain needed a bit of a rest. He is fully fit, has trained really well and is ready to fight for a place in the team,” Martinez added.
“It’s too early to tell whether Coleman and McCarthy can play against Villa. We are going to assess them day by day.
“Kevin has got a typical sprinting injury. We expect him to be out for a few weeks as well.
“Kevin does not need surgery, just conservative treatment. We hope to have him fully fit soon.”
Midfielder Bryan Oviedo pulled out of Costa Rica’s squad this week in order to have a screw removed from the leg he broke in January, but Martinez expects him to be available sooner rather than later.
“Bryan has reacted well to the procedure,” he said. “In a couple of days, he will be working towards selection again.”