James McCarthy set to return, duo close
LIVERPOOL -- James McCarthy is poised to return to Everton’s starting lineup against Manchester United on Sunday as Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar step up their recovery from injury.
McCarthy, 23, was only used as a substitute for Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat at home to Crystal Palace because of a muscular problem.
However, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez says the Republic of Ireland international is fine to play a full 90 minutes against United as his side chase a top-four finish.
Martinez added that Jagielka is set to play a behind-closed-doors friendly next week to build up his fitness after almost two months out with a hamstring injury.
And midfielder Pienaar, absent since limping off with a knee problem during the 4-1 FA Cup quarterfinal defeat at Arsenal on March 8, is on course to return for the club’s final home game of the season, against Manchester City on May 3.
Asked about McCarthy’s fitness, Martinez told a news conference: “He is massively important to us and he should be fine. I was very pleased because we took a bit of a risk with him on Wednesday.
“But he's fully fit, he came through OK and he's preparing well for Sunday. I don’t expect that to be a problem.”
Martinez is continuing to exercise caution over Jagielka, who last played in the 1-0 Premier League defeat at Chelsea on Feb. 22.
The Spaniard initially declared his captain fit at the end of March, but has yet to bring him back into first-team action, citing a concern about aggravating his hamstring problem.
Martinez has not completely ruled out naming Jagielka on the bench on Sunday -- and the defender is back in full training -- but a recall is likely to have to wait a little longer.
“I do think he’s very, very close,” Martinez said. “I’ll make a late call on that. Maybe I’ll wait to see him in that friendly before he joins the first-team squad, but he’s ready. He’s got a chance for Sunday. I wouldn’t say that he’s not ready to do that. But to play 90 minutes, I think it would be no.
“Steven Pienaar is doing well. He’s not ready for Sunday, but I don’t think he’s too far away. I hope that Stevie can play at Goodison again this season, so we’re hoping that the Manchester City game will be a realistic target for him.”
Everton go into Sunday’s game lying fifth in the Premier League, one point behind Arsenal in fourth.