Everton boss Roberto Martinez has stressed the importance of taking a careful approach with Leighton Baines as he considers whether to involve the full-back in Saturday’s clash with Bournemouth.
Baines is yet to make a first-team appearance this season due to an ankle injury, but continued to step up his rehabilitation on Sunday with a 45-minute run-out for the Toffees’ under-21s.
Martinez spoke last week of taking things “day by day” in terms of a decision on when the England international should return to the full Everton side, a phrase he used again on Thursday at his press conference for the Barclays Premier League game at the Vitality Stadium.
And while the manager indicated the “physically ready” Baines could feature against Bournemouth, he also emphasised a key factor in the late call to be made will be the 30-year-old’s mental preparedness for a return to action.
“Physically, from a medical point of view, Leighton is ready,” Martinez said.
“It is just making sure that we give him the right introduction to get that match fitness - and more than anything, it is about having the confidence back in terms of being able to go into a 50-50 challenge without feeling fearful.
“We need to be very careful we give him the confidence and prepare his body to be really strong.
“So we’ll take it day-by-day and make a decision tomorrow in terms of being involved on Saturday.
“It is just about giving Leighton exactly what he needs.
“It is no good to rush him back, then lose him for the rest of the campaign. It is important we give him the right adaptation period.”
Everton - who also could have fit-again midfielder Muhamed Besic back involved - head into the Bournemouth game in fine fettle, with last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa making it seven points accrued and 11 goals scored in their last three fixtures.
A shining light against Villa and of late in general is Gerard Deulofeu, the Spanish playmaker brought back to the club over the summer.
Deulofeu had a successful stint on loan at Everton from Barcelona in 2013-14 and returned on a permanent deal after failing to get into the Barca team in 2014-15, instead being sent out on loan to Sevilla.
Amid the 21-year-old’s sparkling recent form, there has been talk of Barca triggering a buyback clause in his contract, but Deulofeu was quoted this week as saying he wants to stay with Everton “for a lot of years”.
And Martinez feels Deulofeu and Everton is a “perfect fit”.
“We all know the incredible, world-class talent he has,” Martinez said.
“What is very impressive is his determination of becoming as good as he can be. He has the desire to become better, and looks free and happy.
“He is a perfect fit - he looks around and sees the support of our fans, and there is a real chemistry and connection. And it is still early days in his Everton career.”