The traumatic exit of Bryan Oviedo with a double fracture of his leg 20 minutes in at Stevenage mined a worrying seam on Merseyside, where there are now 15 senior players unfit for duty.
While the Costa Rican was unlucky, the incident shone a disconcerting light on the demands made of players in the modern game. Oviedo, tearing back to recover ground around his own box, was not in the best position to intervene but obviously felt the need to contribute. He was stretched and his limb overexposed. Ultimately his body broke in the intensity of it all, and now his World Cup fate, maybe his career, is in the hands of surgeons as he goes for surgery today, with the defender expected to be out for a minimum of seven months.
So Oviedo joined colleagues Coleman, Gibson, Kone, Barkley, Distin, Pienaar and Deulofeu in the Everton sick bay, while across Stanley Park Johnson, Agger, Sakho, Enrique, Lucas, Allen and Coates are all injured.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez is delighted at the progress his team is making, the FA Cup victory at Stevenage being another example of the growing maturity of his side. And he is enthused by the challenge of tomorrow’s derby at Anfield, but there is concern over the rate at which his players are dropping.
“We are losing too many players at the moment. Every club is going through the same thing. The injury to Bryan was one of those moments that really gives you a bad taste. You feel terribly sad for him because it is a great moment in his career, with the World Cup around the corner. All we want is Bryan recovered as quick as we can so that he comes back as important as he has been for the squad.”
Kevin Mirallas excelled in a central role and in this setting Steven Naismith looked Messi-sharp at centre forward. There was much promise, too, in the performance of 19-year-old John Stones at centre-back. Though Phil Jagielka came off at half-time, he is expected to start at Anfield.
Given the players unavailable, the swatting aside of Stevenage in banana-skin territory raised the prospect of another trip to Wembley for Martinez. Were he to triumph a year after his victory with Wigan, he would become the first manager to win the FA Cup in successive seasons with different teams.
“The FA Cup is a tournament that, if we have the mentality we showed today, we should be capable of competing against anyone,” he said. “I have said many times that the FA Cup is the best club cup competition in the world; the magic of being in the final is what we need at Everton. You see what it means to the fans. Nothing would make the dressing room prouder than to give them those sorts of memories but we have to take it step by step.
“The group has a real competitive edge. From now until the end of the season being involved in the FA Cup, would that stop us competing in the league? The answer is ‘no’. We need to go as far in the cup as we can to fulfil our potential in the League.”
Martinez knows the three points available tomorrow against Liverpool are no more valuable than others. However, the same cannot be said of the boost a win would yield. “The Merseyside derby can give you the final kick to develop a momentum that can lead to more points,” he said.
Everton - January transfer targets
Everton - January transfer targets
1/15 Alexandre Lacazette - The Lyon striker has nine goals so far this season and is reportedly wanted by Martinez to provide competition for Romelu Lukaku.
2/15 Tom Ince - Blackpool star and son of Paul, Ince is wanted by a host of clubs. Will Everton be able to lure him to Goodison Park?
3/15 Paul-Georges Ntep - The young Cameroonian striker is reportedly another forward very much on Martinez's radar.
4/15 Ryan Bertrand - With Leighton Baines possibly on his way out of the club, Everton could be in the market for a left back and Chelsea's out of favour youngster could be the man they go for.
5/15 Michy Batshuayi - The powerful Belgian is reportedly wanted by Everton to replace Lukaku next season but the club could move for him this January.
6/15 Fernando - Porto's midfielder is reportedly also being tracked by Liverpool and Man United as well as several Serie A clubs, can Everton compete with their financial clout?
7/15 Kenwyne Jones - Bizarrely Everton have been linked with a move for the Stoke striker who has managed just 13 league goals in his time at the club.
8/15 Thomas Heurtaux - With Jonny Heitinga reportedly on his way out of the club, Everton are said to be looking at Udinese's impressive French defender.
9/15 Shane Long - A proven Premier League goalscorer, Shane Long would seem a good piece of business for Martinez.
10/15 Alfred Finnbogason - The Icelandic forward is another striker reportedly on Martinez's radar and was in good early season form in Holland until suffering an injury.
11/15 Oriol Riera - With Jelavic's departure, the Tofees are in the market for a striker and Osasuna's Riera is reportedly in their sights.
12/15 Dusan Tadic - The Serbian midfielder is another from the Dutch league that Everton are said to be considering.
13/15 Emmanuel Rivière - French media have reported that Everton sent scouts to watch the Monaco forward in action.
14/15 Andrew Robertson - Dundee's highly-rated teenager is a player Martinez has been to watch personally although he would be probably be loaned straight back to his club until the summer.
15/15 Thievy - The French striker could match Arouna Kone in the outlandish hair stakes should he join him at Everton. He is said to be another man on the club's radar.
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