Everton boss Ronald Koeman expects improvements as he targets Manchester United
Everton manager Ronald Koeman expects improvements from his trimmed-down squad as he targets sixth-placed Manchester United.
Three wins in as many games in January, plus the offloading of Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo and the arrivals of Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman, has given the Toffees a new focus.
The gap to United is five points following Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Stoke and Koeman does not believe that is insurmountable - providing his players can maintain their momentum.
"The first goal for us is Man United," said Koeman, whose side host Bournemouth on Saturday. "They did not win at home against Hull (on Wednesday) which means also for them it is difficult to win every game.
"It is possible but it starts always by ourselves. We play Bournemouth and maybe they have been struggling a little bit in the last few weeks but in the away game they showed they were a really good team."
While the window closed without any further additions to those of Schneiderlin and Lookman, Koeman declared himself happy with their transfer business and the positive effect it had on the squad.
"We had some players without any good future to get game time and they are now away from the club because they like to play more and have more game time and that is good," he added.
"We have a small squad but enough numbers to compete and to have competition and a little different spirit now because all of them have opportunities."
However, it was not all good news for another player who arrived in January, with Koeman underwhelmed by the performance of Anton Donkor.
The on-loan Wolfsburg winger played in Monday's reserve-team win over Manchester United and is likely to feature primarily for the under-23s.
"He did well in the first half but I wasn't impressed. I expect more from everybody," he added.
"I spoke to the boy. He took that opportunity to be with the under-23s and maybe sometimes he will be involved in the training session with the first team."
Another player who will have limited first-team chances for the remainder of the season is Arouna Kone after a deadline-day move to Crystal Palace collapsed late on.
Koeman said: "Things change very quickly and if we get injuries then maybe we need Arouna and he needs to wait for his opportunity."
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has challenged the rest of his frontmen to step up and help fill the void left by a season-ending knee injury to Callum Wilson.
The 24-year-old, who has scored six goals for the Cherries this season, ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a training session on Wednesday.
Wilson spent more than six months recovering from an injury to his right knee during last season before eventually returning to action in April as Bournemouth maintained their place in the Premier League.
While the loss of Wilson is a blow for the squad, Howe feels it also now provides an opportunity for someone else.
"Callum worked so hard to get back, so to see him suffer an injury again is heartbreaking," Howe said ahead of the Everton clash.
"It was just one of those things, I think we could all see immediately that he was in pain and it was difficult for us to see that, but if anyone can come back, he can.
"Callum will see a specialist today, after that we will know more about the extent of his injury and his recovery time after that."
Howe added: "We are looking to the future and we have lost a valuable player in Callum Wilson, so other players will have to step up."
Max Gradel remains very much in Howe's plans following his return from international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations and seeing a reported B#4million deadline day transfer to Hull fail to materialise.
"Everyone is aware of how we feel about Max," said Howe of the player signed from St-Etienne in the summer of 2015.
"He has got a lot to offer and it is up to us to get him back to his best.
"Max has got a big part to play between now and the end of the season."
Bournemouth were beaten 2-0 at home by relegation-battlers Crystal Palace on Tuesday night.
Despite sitting in 14th place, the Cherries have picked up just one point since being knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round at Millwall.
Howe hopes his players can draw inspiration from their meeting with the Toffees in September, when a first-half goal from Junior Stanislas proved enough to secure a hard-earned 1-0 win.