‘Not ideal’ - Sean Dyche gives honest Everton update as Fulham opener looms

Everton ended their pre-season campaign with a 1-0 win over Sporting Lisbon.

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Sean Dyche believes that Everton took a ‘good step in the right direction’ as they ended their summer campaign with a victory.

The Toffees delivered a 1-0 win against Sporting CP in their final pre-season friendly at Goodison Park on Saturday. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, making only his second outing of the summer as his fitness continues to be carefully managed, bagged the only goal of the game from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time.

Everton did not taste defeat in their six exhibition games ahead of the 2023-24 Premier League starting against Fulham on Saturday 12 August. They earned wins over Stade Nyonnais, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City and most recently Sporting - as well as draws against Bolton Wanderers and AC Monza.

Dyche, speaking to reporters after the triumph over Sporting, admitted that Everton are still monitoring several players’ fitness issues during the game - but was happy that his side found a way to earn success.

The Blues boss said: “A good step in the right direction again after the pre-season period. Still having to monitor players and be careful with them, which is not ideal with minutes and trying to get people minutes but that’s the way pre-season has gone with people returning with a few knocks and people returning from last season’s injuries as well.

“Obviously, with Dom, being careful with him, he played 45 [minutes] in the week, 45 today so making sure his games programme is building and then just making sure people have enough minutes in pre-season. We keep a log of that, of course, and making sure that in between they are working hard to be fit.”

On the aspects Dyche was pleased with, he responded: “Only the fact that you’re playing against a side that are playing very methodically, a lot of possession and trying hard to break lines through possession and that’s often how the Premier League is.

“Obviously, the tempo is slightly faster in the Premier League, we know that, but adapting to the challenge and finding a way to win the game because that’s going to be important over a season’s work but also the fitness of the players and we saw good signs of that.”

Everton were without Dwight McNeil for the Sporting clash, with the winger set to miss the Premier League curtain-raiser against Fulham on 12 August because of ankle ligament issues. What’s more, Arnaut Danjuma - a summer loan arrival from Villarreal - is also lacking match fitness.

Against the Portuguese side, James Garner was forced to operate on a right-midfield role and Alex Iwobi had to slot into the berth on the left flank.

Asked about Iwobi’s responsibility, Dyche said: “He’s played there before. Jimmy Garner as well, we’ll need a bit of flexibility from him. We’ve obviously lost Dwight for a bit, we’ll see how quickly he can return. Arnaut Danjuma is getting fit again - he’s got a knock but it’s nothing serious, he needs to get properly fit.

“We’re still trying to fast-track players into fitness without breaking them. Time is one of the hardest things giving them enough to make sure they’re ready and can perform but not so much where their injury breaks.”