• Dutchman says his team are more than capable of a top-five finish
• Rivals’ heavier workloads will be to Everton’s advantage, he adds
Ronald Koeman has said Everton could finish above Arsenal or Manchester United due to their rivals’ inconsistency and workloads, claiming the pair are bigger than his team in name only.
Leicester City’s elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday in effect secured Europa League qualification for Everton, with Koeman’s team seventh in the table and 13 points clear of West Bromwich Albion in eighth. Everton will face a third qualifying round in late July should they remain seventh but while welcoming a place in Europa and the extra demands on next season’s fixture schedule, Koeman insists a fifth- or sixth-placed finish is a credible target.
The Everton manager said: “It’s OK if people talk about Arsenal and Man United – the name is a bigger one but not how they play. We are showing that you can give good competition to the strong teams, the big teams, when they are not having a fantastic season.
“At Southampton last year we finished with 63 points. That’s incredible. It’s incredible that we have the same points now as Arsenal but that’s football. It’s not about money. It’s about players, the team, organisation, about spirit, about belief and the best team who showed all that last season was Leicester City, and much better than we are doing this season. But it is possible and that gives confidence to all the rest of the teams that you can give competition.”
Everton are level on points with Arsenal and three behind United, having played two games more than both. Koeman, who takes his side to West Ham United on Saturday and Arsenal on the last day of the season, believes the form of Arsène Wenger’s and José Mourinho’s teams offers Everton hope that the gap can be bridged.
He added: “They have one or two more games to play than us but they have difficult fixtures. Man United are still in the Europa League and this weekend Arsenal have the semi-final of the FA Cup. We know they are not teams like Tottenham and Chelsea who don’t lose any games. No, they are different.
“Our points total is really much better than last year. From 47 points to 57 points there is already a 10-point difference and maybe it will be more. We don’t have a target in mind. We have in mind to win a game on Saturday and after that, to win a game next week. That is the best way to get the highest points total possible.”
The Dutchman also praised Romelu Lukaku but refused to speculate on suggestions the club have put a £100m price on their 23-year-old leading scorer. “He has scored 24 [league] goals and with five games to go he can reach a really high total,” said Koeman. “It is like for any player who is performing at a high level – every team likes to have goalscorers because goals make points. But I think he is improving in the rest of his football. He is doing better pressing and running in the channels. He is now a better striker for the team than he was last year.”