Carlo Ancelotti must unleash James Rodriguez against Crystal Palace on Monday night to have a potentially game-changing option in Everton’s plans.
The Goodison Park natives won twice and lost three times without Rodriguez, scoring just three goals in the 29-year-old’s absence.
Rodriguez registered his eighth assist of the season during his last appearance to help break the deadlock as Everton sealed a historic win over Liverpool at Anfield – only Gylfi Sigurdsson (9) has more to his name in royal blue this term.
Ancelotti now hopes to see the Colombian – who talkSPORT scout David Connelly claims has “undoubted quality” – rediscover his optimal form after returning to full training over the international break.
“James is in good condition and he trained well during the break,” the Everton manager said. “It is important for us to have him back at his best. At the start of the season, he did really well. He helped the team to score goals.
“He is motivated, and his physicality is good in this moment. He is going to put more quality, of course, in our attacking play.
“I am quite confident because I see him in training working well, in good condition and with a good attitude.”
Ancelotti must strive to unleash Rodriguez at the first available opportunity in order to hit the ground running coming out of the international break, with the chance there for Everton to gain ground in the race for Champions League football.
Chelsea spurned a glorious opening to keep the pressure on Everton when beaten 5-2 by relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, to see that the Toffees remained just five points behind the Londoners but now with two games in hand.
However, Crystal Palace will not be expected to roll over and hand the Toffees all three points, as Goodison Park has proven to be a welcome ground for visiting teams with only Newcastle (16), Brighton (13), West Brom (11), Sheffield United (10) and Fulham (10) claiming fewer points at home than Everton (17) have in the Premier League this term.
Everton have only won once in their last seven top-flight fixtures at Goodison Park, losing five and drawing one, including a 2-1 defeat to Burnley, a 2-0 loss to Fulham and a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle.
Crystal Palace will pose a similar danger to the relegation-threatened sides to have won at Everton recently, with the Eagles averaging just 42.1% of the possession when on the road in top-flight fixtures this term – the fourth-lowest in the division, while Newcastle (39.7%) are 20th and Burnley (42.3%) are 15th, per WhoScored.
Roy Hodgson’s side also rank eighth for tackles per away game with 15.9, more than Newcastle (14.8), Fulham (14) and Burnley (12.9), who registered 14, 10 and six in their respective wins at Goodison Park this year.
Burnley rarely had to commit players to win possession back either, as Everton looked lost of ideas in the second half against the Clarets without a natural playmaker, as they proceeded to register just one shot on target from eight attempts despite boasting 64.1% of the ball.
Ancelotti will duly need a player with the game-changing talent of Rodriguez – who averages the most key passes (1.7) per Premier League game by a Blues player this season – pulling the strings for Everton to cut through Palace.