(Reuters) - Everton can take a big step towards consolidating their push for European qualification and give themselves a fighting chance of reeling in the teams above them in the table by winning their next two Premier League games, manager Ronald Koeman has said.
Seventh-placed Everton host eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion on Saturday before another home game against struggling Hull City the following weekend.
Following sixth-placed Manchester United’s League Cup win last month, a seventh-place finish should be enough for Everton to secure a Europa League third-qualifying round spot if this season’s FA Cup winner finishes in the top four.
“I think it’s really important first that this Saturday we get a gap between us and West Brom,” Koeman, whose team already has a four-point advantage over their rivals, told the club website (www.evertonfc.com).
“I‘m fully confident that if we get six points out of the next two home games, we will be able to look at the competition above us in the table -- but we won’t make the big mistake of not looking at it game by game.”
“That’s a big part of what we’ve tried to do this season, to be the best outside of the six big teams in the Premier League. Then we can be really happy about our first season.”
Koeman, who joined the Merseyside club from Southampton at the start of the season, confirmed that Everton would hold talks with midfielder Ross Barkley over a new contract.
Barkley, 23, whose current deal expires in June 2018, was criticised by the Dutchman for his inconsistent performances earlier this season, but responded with a series of strong displays.
“He’s one of the players who will finish their contract in one year,” Koeman said. “We will do everything to keep Ross and (to get him) to sign a new contract. Talks are planned but I don’t think they have started yet.”
Everton’s have lost only one league game at Goodison Park this season, when they were beaten 1-0 by Liverpool in the Merseyside derby in December.
Koeman’s side are one course to finish in the top seven for the first time in three years and victory over West Brom will allow them to match their 47-point tally of the two previous seasons, with 10 games remaining.
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru