Everton manager Roberto Martinez has tipped this weekend’s opponents West Ham to maintain their fine early-season form and contend for a top-five finish.
The Hammers head into their home clash with the Toffees in sixth position in the Barclays Premier League table after Slaven Bilic masterminded impressive victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in their first three away games.
They have a dreadful record against Everton, failing to win any of the past 14 league encounters, yet Martinez believes Bilic’s arrival has helped change the club’s mindset and fully expects them to be in the mix for European qualification come May.
“The biggest strength of this West Ham side is they play with an incredible belief and confidence,” Martinez said.
“The results that they have had, especially this season, they start on the psychological aspect of having the belief that you can beat those sides. To get those results, away from home, it’s very impressive.
“You have new players, a new manager coming in having them playing a very different way, it’s going to be a terrific challenge.
“You look at the amount of points they have already – clearly they are a team that are going to be challenging to finish in the top five positions in the league. It’s how impressive they’ve been.
“We’re going to make sure that we are ready to face them. In my eyes, with Leicester, they’ve been the most impressive side this season.”
Everton have experienced mixed fortunes in their run of games since the last international break, suffering defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal before advancing past Norwich in the Capital One Cup on penalties and then scoring six past Sunderland last weekend.
Martinez wants to enter the next mini-hiatus on a high by continuing the Toffees’ excellent form against West Ham.
“The periods that you’ve got now, with the international break, that’s why the West Ham game is like a final within the league,” he stressed.
“We all want to finish that period strongly. Our game against Sunderland gave us a real sense of confidence in what we can do going forward. We know that we need to improve in other aspects, but you will always get the confidence you get from scoring six goals from open play.
“We see the West Ham game as one of the games of the season for many reasons. The best reason to highlight is that Leicester and West Ham have been the best teams in the opening campaign.
“Clearly we want to be at our best against a team that is in form, a team that has surprised many opposing teams.”
Bryan Oviedo will miss the trip with a hamstring strain while England international Leighton Baines’ return from an ankle injury will come in a behind-closed-doors friendly during the international break.