Despite a treatment room fit to burst Everton boss Roberto Martinez has complete faith his young-guns can carry the Toffees to Champions League glory
Everton will travel to Southampton without the vastly experienced Sylvain Distin and the in-form Kevin Mirallas. However, Everton boss Martinez has no misgivings in calling upon his young players to plug the gaps in the Everton first team squad.
While Distin and Martinez await to hear the full extent of the hamstring injury which forced the French veteran to be replaced at half-time in the 2-0 victory over Manchester United, it is distinctly possible Distin will join Kevin Mirallas, who has a slight tear to the groin, in missing the remainder of the season.
Distin and Mirallas now join the list of long-term injured at Finch Farm including Arouna Kone, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Lacina Traore, Bryan Oviedo and club captain Phil Jagielka.
Despite what seems an ever growing injury crisis at Goodison, Everton boss Martinez is refusing to accept the stresses and strains of fighting for a tilt at the Champions League as the root cause of the problem. And while the Catalan accepts his players may have been unlucky, he also believes the nature of the game and coincidence have played their part.
“Sylvain [Distin] has obviously played a lot of games this season and he’s been very strong and never had a sign of showing fatigue,” said Everton boss Martinez.
“I would say his injury was a movement, an action in the game that resulted in an injury. Kevin Mirallas was clearly the last action of the
game were he’s trying to reach for the ball and he gets a collision that effects him too.
“I was well aware of making sure the last seven games wouldn’t be a strain on any specific player and especially the forward players. We have shared the playing time really, really well and I don’t think any of the injuries are down to fatigue or lack of planning.”
“Football is a sport were you are going to get contact and sometimes you are going to be unfortunate. But they are not injuries that concern me regarding the amount of minutes the players have played.”
With just three games remaining the Toffees are entering the final critical weeks of a momentous season and when questioned on whether he felt having to bring young players into the squad when the stakes are so high would be problematic, the Everton boss was sure whoever came in would be up to the task in hand.
“We have been giving opportunities to our young players throughout the season. We have players who are 19, 20 and 21 who are given huge roles in the side and I don’t think it is about being young or not, it is about being prepared,” said Martinez.
“Our young players are very much prepared to help the team and sometimes you need that opportunity that comes through a suspension or an injury and I don’t think it is something to be worried about that we are going to drop the level of performance of the team.
“The work being done behind the scenes prepares the youngsters to be ready and probably that unknown quality has given us an extra edge in our performances.
“Looking at John Stones at 19 and seeing how well he has been performing – he obviously needed an injury to Phil Jagielka and that is the reality of it – but we pride ourselves in the work we do with the youngsters and we want to be brave enough as a team to give them the opportunities.
“You rely on your senior figures and the team itself to help these players and protect them a little bit. But the young players bring you other qualities; the bravery, the energy and the legs.
“It’s about trying to use the good things these players bring to the side rather than highlighting the lack of experience. It’s about getting the right balance and we’ve got that with the senior figures we have at the club.”
Meanwhile, Everton boss Martinez believes if the Blues can secure three wins in their last three games they will win the race for fourth and qualify for the Champions League for the first time in a decade.
“Yes,” he said. “I think it is fair to say if you look back at the last fifteen years the fourth place is well below the 76 point mark. There has only been one season were you have needed more than that and on average it has always been a lot less.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are fighting against for that fourth spot – it is the points tally that really matters. I would also say if we go and get nine points and don’t get in to the Champions League you can still be very, very happy.”