Everton boss Rafa Benitez fumes after being left with just NINE fit outfield players for Boxing Day trip to Burnley after Premier League rejected request to postpone the game following a Covid outbreak – but Liverpool v Leeds and Wolves v Watford ARE off
- Everton have six injuries and five players out of action having caught Covid
- But they are still being made to play their game against Burnley this weekend
- Rafa Benitez admitted he is surprised that the match is going to go ahead
- He revealed: ‘We have nine outfield players available plus three goalkeepers’
- Leeds successfully requested that their game at Liverpool be postponed
- Watford’s trip to Wolves has also been called off because of a Covid outbreak
Rafa Benitez has hit out at the Premier League after they denied Everton’s request to postpone their Boxing Day fixture at Burnley following a Covid outbreak.
On the day that Leeds and Watford had their trips to Liverpool and Wolves cancelled because they were unable to pick a team fit for purpose, Benitez was left flabbergasted by the decision to make Everton travel to Burnley even though their situation is comparable.
Everton will be without five unnamed players at Turf Moor who contracted Covid in the last seven days — as well as two of Benitez’s staff — plus the injured Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Andros Townsend, Tom Davies, Salomon Rondon and Cenk Tosun.
Rafa Benitez expressed his surprise that Everton are being forced to play Burnley on Sunday
The manager says he is struggling to find enough fit senior players for Sunday’s match
It means that Benitez is going to have to include a number of academy players in his team, along with novices Jarrad Branthwaite and Lewis Dobbin. He will also put Dominic Calvert-Lewin back in for the first time since August 28, despite the striker being nowhere near peak physical condition.
Benitez pointedly said that ‘money is managing the game now’ when asked why he felt the fixture had to be fulfilled, though the situation could yet change if Everton happen to post any more positive tests in the next 48 hours.
‘It is not an ideal situation,’ said Benitez. ‘We have three dressing rooms, masks, lateral flows, PCRs. We keep distances and try to manage in the restaurants but you cannot stop the players being together on the day of a game or when you travel so this is the reason why we have some issues.
Everton managed to come away from Chelsea with a draw in their last encounter
‘I am really disappointed because we are trying to do all we can. We have a squad with a limited number of players, players who in the past were injured all the time, so we are trying to manage. Hopefully in the future it will be easier but, at the moment, we have to manage with what we have.’
Everton’s game last weekend against Leicester was postponed owing to Leicester’s Covid issues and Benitez believes the source of the outbreak in his squad can be traced to the game at Chelsea last Thursday, after which some players began showing symptoms.
‘We had to play some young players and, after that game, we found that we had five positives,’ said Benitez. ‘We were expecting that the game would be postponed, to try and keep the integrity of the league because you are losing so many players.
‘I have to think, “Do I have 11 players fit?” and, “Where will I put them?” They (the Premier League) talk about the numbers — 13 plus one keeper. At the moment, we have nine outfield players plus three keepers, so I have to bring five young players.’
The Premier League has postponed Liverpool’s clash against Leeds and Wolves vs Watford after outbreaks in Marcelo Bielsa and Claudio Ranieri’s squads
This situation plays to the point that Jordan Henderson, Liverpool’s captain, made about player welfare and Benitez added: ‘We are going to have to push them and play players who are not fit — so who will take responsibility if something happens? We are exposing them.
‘My main job now is to find 11 players who can compete against Burnley. It is the same with players who have issues like Seamus Coleman and Allan — you are managing them now. Maybe you have to take the risk, I don’t know. It is complicated for us to make the right decision.’
Leeds have closed their training centre at Thorp Arch for 48 hours and they revealed in a statement on their website that all the players who have tested positive are asymptomatic, which they believe is down to them having a high up-take on vaccines.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds reported five positive cases and asked for their game to be delayed
‘You can close a training ground for two days and then you are allowed to not play the game,’ said Benitez. ‘We were trying to do the right things and maybe are being punished for that.’
A consequence of the trip to Anfield being postponed for Liverpool is that Andrew Robertson will now be suspended for their trip to Chelsea on January 2, following his three-match ban for a red card at Tottenham last week.
The blow of losing Robertson, though, will be offset as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are expected to be involved before heading to the Africa Cup of Nations on January 3.