Roberto Martínez believes Everton will return to Champions League contention providing the club learns from the "hurtful" Merseyside derby defeat at Anfield.
The Everton manager accepts doubts over his team's top-four credentials are understandable following Tuesday's emphatic 4-0 loss against Liverpool, who are now four points clear of their Merseyside rivals and three ahead of Tottenham Hotspur. Martínez insists there were mitigating circumstances for only the third league defeat suffered by Everton this season and his injury problems have increased with Romelu Lukaku out for "a few weeks" with an ankle injury.
But, despite hosting Aston Villa on Saturday without an established striker in his ranks, Martínez claims the manner of the derby defeat can be a catalyst for Everton's run-in. "We are hurting," the Everton manager said. "It is only the third defeat of the season but because of the meaning of the fixture, what it means to us and the fans, it is an especially big blow for many reasons. After that you need to take the emotions away and understand that it is just a defeat.
"We are alongside an elite group in the table with Arsenal and Chelsea who have only three defeats and the reality is we went to Anfield and couldn't add any points. But that is all it was. Now what we need to do is rely on our fans and make sure we support each other. We need to learn a lot from the defeat on Tuesday and if we do I think we will finally be a contender for the top positions in this table. You don't want a defeat like that against your rivals, but a defeat like Tuesday could push us into being a team that can compete in that top four."
Asked what lessons needed to be learned, Martínez replied; "It is about learning to have the role of being a favourite in these sort of games. Liverpool paid us a huge compliment by allowing us to have the ball or trying to press us high up and, once we got through that first line of pressure, they dropped deep and left players to hit us on the counter. That is a real football compliment but we didn't take advantage. It was the opposite. It made us uneasy, we couldn't deal with that and we lost concentration.
"The two goals we conceded in two minutes was not our standard. A long ball from a deep free-kick with 10 bodies behind the ball? That is not ourselves at all. We have a terrific defensive record. It is that mentality of understanding you need to take that football compliment on board and make sure you take advantage. It would be the mentality that we need to learn from as much as anything."