The Boxing Day injury that forced Everton captain Phil Jagielka to miss the Toffees’ 2-1 Sunday win over Southampton could sideline the England international until late January, according to the BBC. Although manager Roberto Martínez concedes the 31-year-old could return earlier, the defender’s hamstring problem may see him sidelined for three league matches.
Given Everton’s upcoming schedule, the injury comes at a decent time. After the team’s Jan. 1 trip to Stoke City (12th in the Premier League), the Toffees host Norwich (14th) before visiting West Brom (15th), with an FA Cup date hosting second tier Queens Park Rangers on Jan. 4 adding a fourth game to the four-week window.
If all goes to plan, however, Jagielka should be back in time for Jan. 28th’s visit from Liverpool, with the year’s second Merseyside Derby carry extra weight between teams currently occupying fourth and fifth place.
According to Martínez, the injury was less anything that happened in the Sunderland game than an accumulation of wear-and-tear suffered during England’s busy season:
“With this soft tissue injury it could be up to four weeks. Knowing Jags he will be back earlier,” Martinez said.
“It is just the accumulation of games and the demands of this month – November into December is high-risk in terms of injuries to the players.
“When you have the number of games we play, it is understandable.”
Sunday’s was the first Premier League game Jagielka has missed this season, the 24-time England international having played every minute of the Toffees’ campaign before sitting out Sunday’s 2-1 win. With him and partner Sylvain Distin at the back, Everton has allowed a league-low 18 goals, their one conceded against Southampton pushing them even with Arsenal for the Premier League’s best mark.
In Jagielka’s place, Martínez will turn to a favorite from his days at Wigan Athletic. Making his first appearance of the season on Sunday, Paraguayan international Antolín Alcaraz got the call ahead of John Heitenga, the 31-year-old logging a full 90 minutes against the visiting Saints.
If Heitenga can’t match his manager’s optimism, Everton will need three or four more performances like that out of Alcaraz. While the veteran may be a step back from Jagielka, he should be able to help Everton keep up their winning ways against a kind early January schedule.