James Rodriguez will not feature for Everton against Southampton on Saturday, as Rafael Benitez prepares for his first competitive game in charge.
A decisive appointment, former Liverpool manager Benitez took over from Carlo Ancelotti, who left to join Real Madrid in June.
Everton have made three signings for a combined £1.7million this transfer window, as they deal with tight Financial Fair Play restrictions.
James, signed on a free transfer from Madrid last year, is one of the players who has been linked with a move away, while it has been suggested Benitez does not see the Colombian star as part of his plans, and the 30-year-old – who is yet to play in front of fans at Goodison Park – will miss the Premier League opener.
“I have had my conversation with him at the beginning and he knows my plan. Now he is not available for tomorrow so it is not an issue, we will discuss every option with the players, their agent and find the best solution for them, and the club and the players,” Benitez said of James.
“We have some players that are in isolation now with COVID around. Some players have to be at home and he is one of them.
“When the transfer window is open and you have to play games, you have speculation about players. It’s the same in every team… It’s not ideal because as a manager you want everyone in the squad to know where they are.”
Southampton have had to sell two of their key performers from last season, with Danny Ings joining Aston Villa and Jannik Vestergaard set to move to Leicester City.
However, Ralph Hasenhuttl will be able to welcome back captain James Ward-Prowse from injury.
“He’s going to be OK,” Hasenhuttl said. “He trained the whole week and I’m looking forward to having him back on Saturday.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Everton – Richarlison
Last Saturday, Richarlison was in Japan, helping Brazil win an Olympic gold medal. The forward missed a penalty and hit the woodwork in that game. He did not have his best of seasons in 2020-21, though did score the winner the last times these teams met.
Southampton – James Ward-Prowse
Ward-Prowse was directly involved in 15 goals for Southampton in the Premier League last season, recording both his most goals (eight) and most assists (seven) in a single campaign in the competition.
KEY OPTA FACTS
·Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s 16 Premier League goals were worth 16 points to Everton last season, with only Mohamed Salah’s more valuable to their side in 2020-21 (17). Calvert-Lewin scored the Toffees’ winner on MD1 against Tottenham last season.
·Everton have lost just one of their 22 Premier League home games against Southampton (W15 D6), remaining unbeaten in their last 16 against them at Goodison Park since a 0-2 loss in November 1997.
·Benitez will become just the second man to take charge of both Everton and Liverpool, after William Edward Barclay in the late 19th century. The Spaniard has won three of his four home games against Southampton in the Premier League, drawing the other.
·Southampton have won their opening fixture in just one of their last 14 Premier League campaigns (D7 L6), beating West Brom 1-0 in 2013-14. Saints have the lowest win rate in opening games of all Premier League sides to play in at least 10 campaigns (nine per cent – won 2/22).
·Everton have won just two of their last 12 Premier League home games (D3 L7), with both of those victories coming by a 1-0 scoreline (vs Southampton in March and Wolves in May).