Saturday 21 April 2018

Martinez eyes strong Everton finish

Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants a strong finish to the season
Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants a strong finish to the season

Everton manager Roberto Martinez has warned his players against thinking the season is over with eight matches to go.

Back-to-back league wins eased the growing spectre of a relegation battle and their nine-point cushion over 18th-placed Burnley means they are out of danger from that respect.

With European qualification effectively out of reach the Toffees have little left to aim for, but Martinez is keen for them to finish strongly in order to banish the feelings of failure this campaign.

"I think it would be a big mistake to start thinking about next season," he said.

"There are no distractions; the league position is everything that matters.

"It is quite straightforward - you need to get 40 points and that is the first target as a team and from that point you try to get as high in the table as you can.

"We are still in a position where we need to fight for those 40 points and nothing will change until we achieve that.

"We know the amount of points is not what we wanted but the truth is you have to face it.

"We had a good reaction in the league with back-to-back wins and now we have 24 points to fight for which will be very significant.

"We can get that momentum from the last campaign when we ended up with a run of seven straight wins and we need exactly the same.

"The way you finish the season affects what you do in the season after and the way you can assess internally what we have done."

Saturday's visitors are sixth-placed Southampton, who are doing this season what Everton did last in exceeding expectations, and Martinez knows they cannot afford to rest on their laurels after winning their last two Premier League matches.

"Two wins has given us real confidence and sense of belief but it is important we get ready to face Southampton," he added.

"It is very important to use home advantage, with five home games and three away, to show what we can do and try to get some enjoyment and momentum which we unfortunately haven't had this season.

"Southampton are the revelation team of the season and it is a great opportunity for us coming back from the international break to focus on difficult opposition.

"I would be very surprised if they don't qualify for Europe and they deserve to finish in the top five."

Ronald Koeman admits Southampton's chances of forcing their way back into Champions League contention are remote.

Saints have eight Barclays Premier League matches, starting with Saturday's trip to Merseyside, to overhaul the six-point gap on fourth-place Manchester United.

While Koeman insists qualifying for Europe remains possible, he knows it would take an extended winning run to propel the club into contention for the premier competition once more.

"Realistically the Champions League will be difficult for us because we have the distance to make up in points," Koeman said.

"If we win the next two or three games we'll be fighting for it, but the Champions League is more for the big teams.

"We play eight finals now and the season so far has been fantastic. If we reach Europe, it will mean a special season for the club."

Everton occupy 13th place as their mixed campaign enters the final straight and Koeman believes they have suffered for their involvement in the Europa League.

"Everton are a tough test because they deserve to be in a higher position in the table. I like the way they play football and how Roberto Martinez is doing his job," he said.

"They have good overall quality in the squad, but it's been a difficult season for them and one of the reasons for that is that they have played in Europe on Thursdays.

"There's more risk of injury, you have to travel and the focus is more difficult after that great season they had last season.

"They won the last two games and are playing with more confidence. It will be a tough game, but a nice one because we play the same way.

"How we play is about winning, not about controlling and defending. That makes the game more open than normal."

Press Association

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