Ross Barkley could be available for Everton in early January – if he is still at Goodison Park, according to Sam Allardyce.
The playmaker, who is yet to play this season because of a hamstring injury, took part in a behind-closed-doors squad match during the week.
Barkley rejected a new contract last summer and there has been talk of a possible fresh bid from Chelsea, but Everton boss Sam Allardyce insisted the door will never be closed.
“It’s in Ross’ hands,” Allardyce said. “He knows the door is always open if he wants to talk about staying, it’s never going to be the case where the door is going to be shut. Then what happens in January, who knows?”
The behind-closed-doors game allowed Allardyce to get a better idea of the competitive strengths of what is a large squad.
Yannick Bolasie and James McCarthy were also involved and the former could finally make his comeback against Chelsea on Saturday.
The Toffees boss is considering naming Bolasie on the bench at Goodison Park and hopes to be able to give the winger some playing time more than 12 months after he suffered a horrific knee injury.
“Physically he’s totally ready,” said Allardyce. “From a technical point of view he’ll be still a little rusty but we have to throw him in at some stage and the sooner the better.
“We’re going to consider him to be on the subs bench tomorrow and if that’s the case we would try to get him on at some stage, hopefully because we’re getting a result.”
Allardyce could not have dreamed of a better start to his new job, winning four of his first five games to lift Everton away from danger and up to ninth place.
But he certainly does not see his side as the finished article and criticised the players for negative passing in the first half of Monday’s 3-1 win over Swansea.
Allardyce said: “There’s no room for complacency. There’s still a long way for us to develop. While the results have been the most important thing and made us pretty comfortable, our performances I’m hoping are going to continue to improve.”
Allardyce knows Saturday’s clash will be a serious test of his unbeaten start, even if the reigning champions are not the side they were last season.
“It’s an opportunity to play against one of the top six teams, which challenges every player to be the best they possibly can,” he said.
“If that brings us a result then I think that’s an added bonus to what we’ve done already. Sooner or later we would always want to be able to challenge anybody, particularly at Goodison. But we’re not there quite yet.”
Some good news for Everton’s players is that they will not have to train on Christmas Day ahead of the Boxing Day trip to West Brom.
It has been a policy of Allardyce’s throughout his managerial career, and he said: “I hated it when I was a player. It was the worst thing ever. It was a complete waste of time in my view.”
Allardyce, meanwhile, was lukewarm on reports linking him with a January move for defender Lamine Kone, who he worked with at Sunderland.
“Lamine produced a remarkable run of performances when he first arrived at Sunderland to help that club stay in the Premier League,” said Allardyce.
“Since then I’m not sure what’s happened to his career but it’s obviously slipped way down. That puts a doubt about his ability to sustain that level of performance so I’m not sure whether I’d be interested or not.”