Everton’s manager has challenged Romelu Lukaku to show “the best of himself” against his striker’s former club, Chelsea, on Sunday and shape the destiny of the Premier League title.
Ronald Koeman’s side present arguably the toughest assignment for Chelsea in their pursuit of the championship having won eight consecutive matches at Goodison Park, with Lukaku scoring in his past nine appearances on home soil. The Belgian has been frequently linked with a return to Stamford Bridge after refusing to extend a contract that still has two years to run, and the manager admits it may be difficult to retain his best players this summer. “I don’t know, will see at the end of the season,” he said on the prospect of keeping the Premier League’s leading scorer.
“First of all we like to keep the best players but that’s difficult. We know that’s difficult and I don’t know at the moment if it’s possible. Then we have to analyse the team to see what we need. We need to analyse what we need with the offensive players to score more goals, because the gap between Rom and the rest in terms of goals is too big.”
Lukaku has scored 24 league goals this term but was subdued in the goalless draw at West Ham United last weekend. Koeman believes the entire team was to blame for that lethargic display and insists persistent talk of a return to Chelsea should not affect Lukaku’s impact against Antonio Conte’s team on Sunday.
“We will see, normally not,” he said on the prospect of the striker being distracted. “The player always like to show the best of himself. Maybe we need to change a little bit of our mentality because I felt there was a little bit less intensity last week. Maybe we need to change the motivation because if you already have seventh [place] you get a little bit of holiday or end-of-season feeling and that’s what I don’t like.
“Last week the whole team performance was the worst of the season. I don’t like to single out Lukaku or other players because he was part of the team. It is a team performance not one individual performance. I expect them to give so much more this weekend. Our last game of the season is Arsenal away and we still have the possibility to catch them. The title is not done and this weekend can be really decisive about the title race.”
Everton’s Under-23s team, managed by their former defender David Unsworth, won the Premier League 2 title this week but Koeman moved swiftly to dampen expectations that he will receive a flow of young talent into the first team next season. The manager said: “It is a really good achievement, you play football to win, but sometimes I feel there is too much positivity about the young players and I know they’re not ready. I know how difficult it is to make the next step, even if you win the title. I know how difficult it is to make the first team.
“It’s a difficult last step and sometimes it is too easy to tell everybody that we have a lot of players ready for the first team because that it is not the case. It’s impossible to have 15 players under 25 in the first-team squad. It’s always easy to come in but it’s really difficult to stay. We need more players aged 26-29 to improve. Little by little we will bring them on, but they are not ready.”