Everton manager Roberto Martinez admits they cannot afford to give out-of-form striker Romelu Lukaku a much-needed rest.
The Belgium has scored just twice since he moved to Goodison Park from Chelsea on a permanent £28m deal in the summer.
At this stage 12 months ago he had twice as many goals while playing on loan for the Toffees, but Martinez believes last season’s exertions followed immediately by the World Cup have taken their toll on the 21-year-old.
However, with Arouna Kone still not fit after a serious knee injury almost exactly a year ago, Steven Naismith operating better in a slightly deeper role and 33-year-old Samuel Eto’o seen as a back-up, Martinez has had little option but to keep putting his club-record signing back in the firing line.
The Spaniard admits he does not think leaving out Lukaku now will benefit him, but they will focus on getting him back to peak fitness in the next few weeks.
“Romelu is still finding his best moment of form,” he said. “Any player coming out of a World Cup always takes a transitional period to get their fitness back to normal.
“Over the next few weeks we are going to try to give him that physical element he needs, but he is a young man who will be an important player for us. I think Rom needs to be playing and getting his match fitness and he is too important for, us so we can’t afford to give him any resting period — I don’t think that would help him.”
Lukaku’s lack of goals and defensive lapses have contributed to a haul of just six points from seven matches leaving Everton 17th. league.
Despite being much worse off position-wise than they were 12 months ago, Martinez is not about to start reevaluating his projections for the season. “I still feel in the league we are still suffering from dropping four points in the two early games at Leicester and against Arsenal,” he said.
“We’re taking every game slowly and for us the only concentration is Aston Villa.”
For their part, Villa are very close to bringing back their talisman, with striker Christian Benteke ready to give his side a shot in the arm as he is pushing to start his first match since March. The Belgian suffered a ruptured Achilles early April which has kept him out of action and missing the World Cup.
Villa have taken a solid 10 points from their opening seven games while Benteke worked his way towards fitness. However, his return as a sub in the 2-0 defeat by Man City last time out was a positive step and a start for Villa at Everton today would be a huge boost to the team.
“Christian is pushing to start,” said manager Paul Lambert. “We had a (behind-closed-doors) game here against Leicester that he scored in so that gave him a lift as well.”
Lambert also hopes to welcome back captain Ron Vlaar, struggling with his troublesome calf but was given a clean bill of health this week.
“It’s good to have him back. If everything is all right tomorrow Ron will travel.”
The return of two key figures is particularly timely for Lambert considering he is likely to be without two others, in Fabian Delph and Philippe Senderos, for the trip to Goodison Park.