LIVERPOOL: Doubts over the long term Everton futures of Premier League leading scorer Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Ross Barkley could ease if they beat West Ham on Saturday to all but guarantee a place in next season’s Europa League.
Both Lukaku – who tops the scoring charts with 24 goals – and Barkley have yet to sign new contracts with the former who is tied to the club till 2019 refusing to put pen to paper on a substantially better offer.
A win at West Ham on Saturday could make qualification for the Europa League mathematically certain, depending on results elsewhere, and would be reward for a commendable first season under Ronald Koeman’s management.
Koeman’s side have rarely moved from seventh place since Christmas, with a run of eight successive home league wins keeping them on the tails of the top six.
Barkley, out of contract at the end of next season, has also been in the headlines for other reasons over the last fortnight.
First he was attacked in a Liverpool bar hours after the win over Leicester, and was then the subject of a deeply offensive newspaper column that has led to the publication in question, the Sun, being banned from attending all Everton matches and press conferences.
Lukaku, despite refusing to sign a new deal, has not let that affect him on the pitch.
He has scored in Everton’s last nine home matches, the first player to do that since Dixie Dean in 1934.
Koeman’s side could do with more points on their travels, as they have not won any of their last five away matches.
Achieve that, the manager argues, and a top-six finish is more than possible.
“Seventh position means European football,” he said.
“But we will take up the challenge of trying to win all of our remaining games. If you do that you have a real opportunity to finish fifth or sixth,” added the 54-year-old Dutchman.
Midfielder James McCarthy remains out with a hamstring problem, while on-loan striker Enner Valencia is ineligible against his parent club.
West Ham could recoup £12million (US$15.3m) should the move become permanent but manager Slaven Bilic indicated that was by no means certain.
“We are going to see what is going to happen after this season,” he said. “He is on a long contract with us.”
The Hammers are almost safe after arresting a five-game losing run with victory over Swansea and a point at Sunderland.
Bilic was mindful that his team has a habit of surrendering leads however.
In fact 22 points have been shed that way this season – the most by any club.
“It has happened more than a few times,” said the 48-year-old Croatian.
“We haven’t used our momentum to kill games off with half an hour to go or whatever.
“We should have managed those games better. Individual errors cost us but they happen, especially when opponents are taking the risk.”--AFP