Roberto Martinez has admitted that he rushed Everton midfielder Ross Barkley back too quickly from a fractured toe.
The 20-year-old was initially thought to be facing up to six weeks out after picking up the injury during the 4-0 FA Cup third-round win over Queens Park Rangers on Jan. 4.
Manager Martinez, though, took a risk by bringing him back into the starting line-up just three-and-a-half weeks later, on Jan. 28, for the Merseyside derby against Liverpool at Anfield.
The move backfired as Everton lost 4-0, but Martinez believes his big error was in asking Barkley to play again in the Premier League just three days later, against Aston Villa.
Everton’s boss said earlier this week that the England international was still not 100 per cent fit following the injury.
Barkley was listed on the team sheet as a substitute for Wednesday’s Premier League meeting with Crystal Palace, shortly before the game was postponed as high winds on Merseyside had made the streets around Goodison Park unsafe.
And Martinez must decide whether to keep Barkley on the bench on Sunday, when Everton host Swansea in the fifth round of the FA Cup, in order to preserve him for future matches.
“I did bring [Barkley] back too early, especially for the game against Aston Villa," Martinez told a news conference on Friday.
“It wasn’t so much an issue in the previous game against Liverpool, because when you come back, the adrenaline helps you through and you’re OK.
“But when you rest after that game, you need a bit more time. Against Aston Villa at home, it was too early for him to start the game.
“But he’s such a joy to work with. We need to make sure that now, he’s fully recovered and refreshed, and is ready to have a massive role between now and the end of the season.
“Ross is a young man who can get through anything. That’s why you need to be careful, because he’ll never be conscious if he’s feeling any pain.
“I’m really pleased with the way he’s putting himself up for the games, and he wants to be ready.
“But Ross is going to be vital for us in this final third, and we need to make sure we use him wisely and when he is 100 per cent.”
Martinez, meanwhile, insists there is no rush to discuss a new contract with Barkley or any of his other players, with all talks to be put on hold until the end of the season.
The midfielder’s current deal runs until the summer of 2016, but he is set to be offered an improved contract after establishing himself as an Everton regular this season and winning his first three England caps.
Asked if there had been any move towards a new contract for Barkley, Martinez said: “No, no, no. Everything is still the same behind the scenes.
“We’ll always reward the players who deserve it, and Ross is one of those.”