Phil Jagielka will make his return from a two-month injury absence in one of Everton’s next three games.
The Toffees skipper suffered medial knee ligament damage in the October 24 loss to Arsenal and has spent the past nine weeks on the sidelines having previously started in every game this term.
Blues boss Roberto Martinez confirmed he is nearing the end of his rehabilitation now and expects Jagielka to play in one of the Merseyside club’s next three games, against Tottenham, Manchester City or Dagenham.
“The next three days are very important for Phil Jagielka,” he said.
“I think the weekend could be a bit too early but we’ve got the next three games. He will be involved – if it’s not the Spurs game or the Man City game in the (Capital One) Cup, it will be in the FA Cup third round. I would say in the next seven to 10 days.
“We need to make sure he gets to the final stage of his preparation. Medically he’s got the green light, now it’s making sure he gets a good programme to get him match fit.
“In the dressing room he’s a lively character that we’ve missed immensely, but we need to make sure he’s at 100 per cent before he can come back into challenging for a position in the team.”
Everton have only lost twice without the England international at the heart of their defence, yet they have only kept three clean sheets in those 11 games and have shipped seven goals in back-to-back home defeats to Leicester and Stoke. Their vulnerability has made them long odds to finish in the top four.
Teenager Brendan Galloway, John Stones and Argentinian Ramiro Funes Mori, 21 and 24 respectively, have played the bulk of the games since October and Martinez believes the imminent return of the 33-year-old Jagielka will help plug the gaps in his leaky defence.
“Defensively we are conceding too many goals for our liking and there are reasons for that,” he stressed.
“Clearly, this month is going to be very, very important. We’ve got our captain coming back into the side which is always important – more than anything for the influence he can have on young players. We have a back four with a lot of quality, a lot of talent but you need that little bit of experience. There’s a 19-year-old, 21-year-old, 24 coming from a different league – that takes a little bit of time.
“As a team we know that we are not far off becoming a really, really strong team. Our performances going forward and our performances in between the boxes have been very impressive.
“It’s just defensively we are putting ourselves in a very difficult position to get the scorelines reflecting what happens in our performances. That’s what we’re looking to improve, to become better and make sure the second half of the season we get the rewards from all the pain we’ve had to suffer in the last few weeks.”