John Stones will come back stronger from his injury nightmare, insists Roberto Martinez.
The Blues boss admitted that the 20-year-old England international will be badly missed by Everton after it emerged he is facing up to four months on the sidelines nursing torn ankle ligaments.
But he attempted to remain upbeat in the wake of the devastating blow by insisting the centre-back’s recovery should at least be straight forward and allow him to play a part in the second half of the season.
“It’s a clear injury – not a complicated injury,” said Martinez. “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.”
Everton’s John Stones
Martinez hopes that one of his other defenders can use Stones’ plight as an opportunity to stake their claim in the first team.
“John will be out for a while so there is an opportunity for someone else to step up and fill that gap even though John was at a very, very good level and had developed a strong relationship with Phil Jagielka which was a big partnership for us,” he said.
“But we know John will come back stronger and as a better player going into the second part of the season.”
It is another in the line of several defensive concerns for the Toffees this term.
Seamus Coleman has not played since mid-September and Sylvain Distin has missed the last three matches.
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 four weeks and striker Arouna Kone has still to feature in a matchday squad after a knee operation last October.
Distin’s predicament has been a topic of concern among supporters but Martinez maintained that the French defender has been rested, while at the same time challenging him to recapture the performance levels which helped him to become a key man for the Blues last term. “Sylvain needed a bit of a rest,” Martinez said when asked about the Frenchman’s absence.
“Obviously he played a lot of football, in the preseason too. He is someone I needed to manage his amount of games, and his input.
“He is fully fit, has trained really well and is now making sure we see him fighting for his place in the team. In Sylvain’s case in the last couple of weeks, he needed to refresh and work on certain aspects and now he is back and ready to fight for his place on the team.
“He has been a model professional for so many years that it gets to a point when you need to treat him on an individual basis.
“He’s desperate to be reaching the levels he had last season, which I thought was one of the best campaigns of his career. “
However the Blues boss warned that he has other options if he does not feel the defender, who is out of contract in the summer, gets back to his best.
He added: “We want to see him reaching that level again but Antolin Alcaraz is working well and so is Tyias Borwning who can play in that position.
“We’ve got another two young players who have been doing really well. I don’t want to lose any players who are doing well but injuries are part of the game.”
The Blues boss was at least able to focus on one positive development, with the news that Ross Barkley will return to full training next week.
Barkley was sidelined by a knee ligament injury on the eve of the Premier League season but is now potentially just a fortnight away from making a competitive return.
“On Monday we expect Ross, with the green light from the medical department, to join the group,” Martinez said.
Ross Barkley in action against Celta Vigo
“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.”
Clarity on Barkley ‘s situation was a boost for the Toffees, although those doubts remain over Coleman and McCarthy who have also been sorely missed, albeit for a shorter period of time.
“It’s too early to tell whether Coleman and McCarthy can play against Villa. We are going to assess them day by day,” said the Catalan.
“Kevin has got a typical sprinting injury. We expect him to be out for a few weeks as well.
“The good news is that Kevin does not need surgery, just conservative treatment.”
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.”