Everton left-back Leighton Baines could return to action against Sunderland on St Stephen’s Day.
The England international has been out for the past month with a broken toe. Everton have not lost in Baines’ absence, winning four and drawing one in the Premier League, and Bryan Oviedo has filled his position effectively.
Despite that, the return of Baines is likely to give a squad already flying high another lift.
Toffees manager Roberto Martinez said: “Leighton is getting really close. Depending how today and tomorrow go, he should be ready for Thursday, which is terrific news.
“Of course we have missed him. You can’t underestimate the quality of Leighton and his experience, know-how and what that represents.
“We have had an incredible replacement in Bryan Oviedo, he has been terrific.
“But you want players in good moments of form to be available.
“We are desperate to have Leighton Baines back and desperate for Bryan to be in that moment of form.
“We need to make sure we use that well for the good of the squad.”
Martinez has no doubt Ross Barkley could shine for England at next year’s World Cup but has warned against the dangers of overburdening the 20-year-old with expectation.
Martinez has been careful not to overhype the highly-rated youngster throughout his strong start to the season. But, as Barkley continues to excel, containing the mounting excitement levels outside the club is becoming increasingly difficult.
The talented Barkley further enhanced his reputation by scoring Everton’s winner at Swansea on Sunday with a superb free-kick.
Having already won three caps for England this term, the clamour for him to be part of Roy Hodgson’s squad for Brazil is growing.
Martinez said: “We always do that when we see an outstanding young man enjoying his football — we always feel they are now ready to win the World Cup. We need to be careful.
“Ross is showing that he is growing, developing. He keeps surprising everyone because he is capable of doing anything on a football pitch.
“Technically he is one of the most gifted English footballers you will ever see — right and left — his potential is huge.”
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet is in no mood to throw in the towel despite seeing his side head into Christmas in dire straits.
The Black Cats sit at the foot of the Barclays Premier League table and four points adrift of safety, after passing up an opportunity to close the gap on the teams ahead of them when they could only draw 0-0 with Norwich on Wearside on Saturday.
Poyet admitted after the game that some of what he had seen had been “scary” and that he could not explain why his players had produced such a sub-standard performance.
The Uruguayan’s mood will not have been improved by a bout of illness which prevented him from conducting his pre-match press conference yesterday afternoon, but first team coach Charlie Oatway, who deputised, insisted there was no chance of the 46-year-old – or indeed anyone else within the camp — giving up.
Oatway said: “No, that won’t be happen on our part at all. When it’s mathematically impossible, you might adjust and dust yourself down and think about what’s going to happen or not going to happen.
“At this moment in time, there’s still a lot to play for and a lot of fight in us.”
Sunderland are waiting on captain John O’Shea ahead of the Everton game. “John took a knock on his shoulder and has been assessed by the doctors and physios,” Oatway said.
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