By Phil Medlicott, PA
James Rodriguez is unavailable for Everton’s Premier League opener against Southampton on Saturday as uncertainty continues to surround the Colombia playmaker’s future.
While forwards Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are set to be involved in the contest at Goodison Park, Rodriguez is among five Everton players currently isolating.
Rafael Benitez, preparing for his first competitive match as Toffees boss after succeeding Carlo Ancelotti in June, was asked at his pre-match press conference on Friday if Rodriguez was part of his plans or if he would be allowed to leave.
And he said: “I have had my conversation with him at the beginning, and then he knows my idea – but now he is not available, so it is not an issue for tomorrow.
“We will discuss every single player with them, with their agents and then try to find the best solution for us, for the club, and also for the players.
“Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are available, but we have some players that are in isolation, and then we have to manage that.”
Richarlison only returned to training with Everton on Wednesday after winning Olympic gold with Brazil in Tokyo, while England striker Calvert-Lewin had missed last weekend’s friendly against Manchester United due to a knock.
With coronavirus restrictions having eased, Goodison Park is set to be full tomorrow for the first time since March 2020.
When Benitez was asked if he could understand fans wanting to see Rodriguez, who joined the club in September last year, in the flesh if possible, he said: “I understand that the fans want to see the best players possible on the pitch to win the game.
“He is one of them. We have Richarlison, Dominic, and anyone that I can name now in the team – they must be good players on the pitch.”
The arrival at Everton of Benitez – only the second man to manage both Merseyside clubs and the first in over a century – was met with some negativity among the Toffees fanbase.
Benitez is confident that Everton supporters attending Saturday’s game who still feel unsure about his appointment will get behind the team.
“I think they have seen during these weeks what we can try to do, and the point is that after 17 months I think they will be desperate to see the team on the pitch, to cheer the players, to support the team,” he said.
“I think they are quite clever and they know the main thing for us is to be sure we are strong at home. They can be a major part of our success, and I’m sure they will be supporting the team in the way they did all the time.”
Everton have so far brought in Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend and Asmir Begovic as new signings this summer.
Regarding potential further recruitment before the transfer window closes, Benitez said: “I’m sure that if you asked, the majority of the managers want to improve, want to strengthen their squad.
“It still is early, we have to wait a little bit until the end of the transfer window. But I’m happy with the way the players are training, the way we are working, and hopefully we can replicate that on the pitch.”