Everton manager Ronald Koeman has declared his players are only at 70 per cent in terms of their fitness ahead of their season-opening clash with Tottenham on Saturday.
The Dutchman, who left Southampton in June to become Toffees boss, added as he made the claim that at his previous club “it was 100 per cent”.
Speaking on Thursday at his press conference to preview this weekend’s Premier League contest at Goodison Park, Koeman said: “Of course, it’s always nice to start the season, but we are not at the level we need to be. Not in terms of players’ physical states.
“Because I think we are, in terms of physical state, 70 per cent of what we need to be.
“We are working hard and we will improve. We need to improve.”
Koeman insisted his team will be “strong” on Saturday, but suggested it would be “two to three weeks” before Everton have increased to 100 per cent fitness.
And he said: “I doubt that means we will start to play at 70 per cent. But if I compare the numbers of the physical states of the players, it is 70 per cent, and at Southampton it was 100 per cent.”
Regarding his potential selection for the game, Koeman revealed Ashley Williams – signed on Wednesday from Swansea for a reported £12million following fellow centre-back John Stones’ £47.5million move to Manchester City – will not be available.
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Koeman said of Wales skipper Williams: “He started late because of Euro 2016 and all the business between Swansea and Everton. I hope he can be ready after 10 days of training for next weekend.”
Toffees captain Phil Jagielka is set to start in the heart of defence having recovered from a hamstring problem.
And Koeman has made it clear Jagielka – linked with a reunion with ex-Everton boss David Moyes at Sunderland – will not be leaving Merseyside.
“He is the captain of the team, and if you count our centre-backs then, of course, there is no way he will leave the club,” Koeman said.
Two players are doubtful for Saturday’s match – full-back Seamus Coleman (ankle) and striker Romelu Lukaku (heel).
Lukaku is someone else who has been linked with a move, with his former club Chelsea reportedly willing to pay big money to re-sign him.
Asked about that situation, Koeman said: “He is still an Everton player but finally the board makes those kind of decisions.
“Of course, I would like to keep all my best players but I know football. I know business. Let’s wait.”
When then asked about talk Lukaku is to be offered a new contract by Everton, Koeman said: “The club is doing everything to keep all the players we’d like to keep in the team.”
Everton are reportedly in the process of trying to bring in Sunderland defender Lamine Kone and Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie.
And while refusing to talk about specific players, Koeman did say the Toffees – who have so far this summer recruited Williams, Idrissa Gueye and Maarten Stekelenburg – “will do business for three or four more players”.
He also made it clear striker Oumar Niasse has no future at Goodison Park, saying: “He can make his transfer because he is not in my opinion the future, what we need in his position.”
Meanwhile, Koeman has said Everton defender Matthew Pennington is to be sidelined for “several months” after suffering a hamstring problem in pre-season.