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Everton only have nine outfield players available for Burnley clash, claims Benitez

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 23 Dec 2021

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Rafael Benitez has suggested the Premier League need to “take responsibility” after they rejected Everton’s request for Sunday’s game with Burnley to be postponed.

Everton visit the Clarets at Turf Moor on Boxing Day but Benitez revealed on Thursday that he only has nine senior outfielders to pick from.

The Toffees have three goalkeepers fit and a selection of players from the academy, though Benitez warned that situation may change over the coming days.

Six Premier League games, including Everton’s meeting with Leicester City, were called off last weekend amid COVID-19 outbreaks within several squads.

On Thursday, the Premier League confirmed Leeds United’s trip to Liverpool and Watford’s game at Wolves, set to be played on Sunday too, had also been postponed.

Premier League clubs met on Monday, deciding to carry on without a “circuit-breaker” shutdown, though each game would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Benitez, however, could not hide his frustration that Everton were being told the Burnley encounter must go ahead.

He told a news conference: “I’m really surprised that the game is going on because of all the cases we have and the injuries.

“We have followed all of the rules, we do the lateral flows, PCRs, have the masks, three dressing rooms to spread the players. But we cannot control when we have to play matches and a player is positive but does not have any symptoms and can pass it to the others.

“That is what happened the other day against Chelsea. We had to play some young players and after the game we found that we had five positives. With the injuries and the positives we had, we thought that the game would be postponed.

“The rules are 13 players plus one goalkeeper. We have nine outfield players available plus three goalkeepers and after that we have five young players, but they say they have enough experience to play in the Premier League.”

Benitez confirmed that Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has been out injured since August, is in contention, but is concerned the striker will have to be rushed into playing a full match.

He continued: “The reality is some of these players, like Dominic, have been out for months, so we have players who have knocks, we have to push them, play players who are not fit.

“Who will take responsibility if something happens? We are exposing them. My main job now is to find 11 players and play in the right positions to be competitive.

“I think they are considering just the numbers. But who is taking responsibility if something is wrong with injured players? We have six injuries, five players with COVID.”

Lucas Digne has missed Everton’s last three games after a reported falling out with Benitez, but the left-back is, as it stood on Thursday, available.

“At the moment [Digne] is available, yes. Lucas is our player,” said Benitez, with Everton reported to have secured the signing of Ukraine left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko for January.

“My main concern is to concentrate on the players I have, Lucas is one of these players. Lucas has been a key player for us, he’s an important player, working really hard in every training session and during the games.”

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