It is 12 months since Elano admitted that he simply didn't enjoying playing on the hard winter pitches, with his "studs above the turf", and he is yet to rediscover the sparkle of that golden first autumn at the club, when the turf was soft. His compatriot Robinho, too, Mark Hughes admitted yesterday, will find working in the depths of December a new and challenging experience, with his own buoyant beginning replaced by an injury-hit winter so far.
A spot on the bench is the most likely place for him as Everton arrive at Eastlands today. Playing at Christmas does take some adjusting to for the Brazilians, Hughes said. "It's new to foreign players when they come to England [and] pretty much unique to the Premier League. We seem to want to stick to tradition and battle through, but maybe, on occasions, the quality of the games goes down as a consequence." That is why Hughes believes the enforced break may be no bad thing for a player who, before starting the Manchester derby with pain-killing injections for an ankle injury, had missed only the visits to Brighton and Schalke. "Maybe we will get the benefit of this further down the line, but he is still in every day. It's not as if he is having time off," Hughes said.
After showing the signs of his injury against United the 24-year-old was only back in training yesterday. "It's only a little point above his ankle that needs to resolve itself but the final 10 per cent of recovery can be the hardest," Hughes said. The manager will not be tempted to try more painkillers to render his £160,000-a-week player capable of starting today. "If there is a likelihood of compromising the player, then you don't give the injection," Hughes said. "It's just one point [on his ankle] that is concerning him when he tries to go flat out."