Rafa Benitez has told the Premier League they must take responsibility if his star player Dominic Calvert-Lewin suffers a serious injury on his return to the Everton side.
The Blues boss is furious that his club’s request to have their Boxing Day game at Burnley postponed because of five Covid cases amongst his squad, and six injury absences.
It leaves him with a squad of just 15 for the festive clash, and five of those will be drawn from the U23 ranks. That means he will be forced to play England striker Calvert-Lewin, even though he knows it is a massive risk after a three month injury absence.
And he said: “It’s quite dangerous for us and maybe someone has to take responsibility – someone has to consider that, because of the circumstances of this game, we have to play players who are not ready.
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“They just talk about the numbers – the 13 plus one keeper – but we have nine outfield players available plus three keepers and have to bring in five young players who it seems have enough experience to play.
“But the reality is some of these players include Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has been out injured for two months. We have other players with knocks and we will have to push them.
“They are not fit and who will take responsibility if something happens to them because they have to play 90 minutes? We are exposing them.”
Benitez says it is a huge dilemma, because he Calvert-Lewin is central to the manager’s plans for the rest of the campaign, and another injury now could be disastrous.
But he may have no option but to play the 24 year old, with so few players available. He has five Covid cases in his squad plus two coaches with the virus.
“With Dominic, it’s a really difficult decision for us. Who will take responsibility if something happens? After two months out, (he) will have to play 90 minutes – so we are exposing them (to serious injury).”
Calvert-Lewin hasn’t played since August after picking up a quad injury, and he has only returned to training in the past fornight.
And Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Andros Townsend, Salomon Rondon, Tom Davies and Cenk Tosun are all injured, leaving him with Calvert-Lewin as the only fully fit senior striker.
Benitez added: “For Dominic to be fully fit he will still need, for me, two or three weeks. That will give him match fitness and maybe a bit more to ensure he is at his maximum
“In the case of any player who has been out for around two months, he can be “fit” but when it comes to playing a game that is totally different. It will take time for him to have the sharpness you have to have in a game.
“Physically he is fine, but still it is a risk because you cannot overload these players. It is the same with players who have issues like 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.”
Benitez will call upon U23s Jarrad Branthwaite, Tyler Onyango, Ellis Simms and Lewis Dobbin who all featured in the draw at Chelsea, with teenager Anthony Gordon will also continue in the starting line up, while Lucas Digne returns.