Everton manager Roberto Martinez expressed his delight after his squad regrouped with no new injuries following the international break, with Aston Villa visiting Goodison Park on Saturday.
No fewer than 10 Everton players appeared for their respective countries in international friendlies and Euro 2016 play-off matches during a two-week break from domestic action and Martinez was relieved the likes of Ross Barkley, John Stones and Muhamed Besic came through unscathed.
This weekend’s match begins a run of six games during a four-week period that Martinez feels will test his players.
“It is such an incredible block of fixtures right now,” the Spaniard said. “At the start of the season you get periods of a lot of football then the international breaks.
“We have gone through this international break with real feelings of satisfaction because we haven’t picked up any injuries and the group look very strong.
“We are now facing a period of 19 Premier League games and obviously involved in three competitions, with the League Cup and the start of the FA Cup before the next international break.”
Martinez is hoping midfielder Tom Cleverley will make his comeback against Villa after recovering from a leg injury, but he is waiting to see whether left-back Leighton Baines is ready to play as he continues to regain fitness after an ankle problem.
“We will take it day by day,” Martinez said of Baines. “He is fully fit from a medical point of view. It is about getting good match fitness.
“He had 90 minutes behind closed doors and looked sharp. It would be very difficult to give an exact date but he is close to making the squad.”
Villa boss Remi Garde will be without Jordan Amavi as he takes his team to Merseyside in the hope that they can end the longest winless streak in the Premier League this season, which stands at 11 matches.
Left-back Amavi is out for the season after suffering a cruciate knee injury while playing for France Under-21s and Kieran Richardson could be drafted in to replace him.
Garde said: “As you know we have a problem with Jordan Amavi, a big injury with his knee. He will be out for at least six months.
“I’m still waiting for Carlos Sanchez and Brad Guzan. The other players came back without major problems, only a little bit tired.”
Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor is a doubt for Villa as he recovers from a calf injury and defender Jores Okore will miss out with a long-term knee problem.
Key Opta stats:
– Everton have lost just one of their last nine Premier League encounters with Aston Villa (W4 D4), although that defeat did come last time out, 2-3 at Villa Park last May.
– Romelu Lukaku has scored in each of his three top-flight games for Everton against Aston Villa (one in each game).
– Lukaku is one goal off hitting 50 in the Premier League, which would make him only the fifth player in Premier League history to make that milestone before turning 23 (along with Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo).
– Everton have gone six top-flight games without keeping a clean sheet; only West Ham have gone longer without a shutout (seven games).
– Villa’s haul of just five points after 12 games is their worst-ever haul at this stage of a top-flight season.
– Everton are the only side in the Premier League this season who have scored all their goals from open play (20 out of 20).
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