Koeman defends Barkley, Lukaku after criticism

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Ronald Koeman has jumped to the defense of two of his most-gifted players, Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, following Everton’s derby defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

[ MORE: The end for Luke Shaw? ]

The Toffees lost 3-1 to their Merseyside rivals on Saturday which all but ended their faint hopes of securing a top four finish.

Speaking to the media ahead of Everton’s clash at Manchester United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Koeman defended Lukaku and Barkley

“Ross played in a different position than he has played in the last few weeks. Of course, he lost several balls in the midfield instead of playing a little faster, but he needs to improve in that,” Koeman said. “But taking out one or two players and saying that was the problem last Saturday – that’s not fair.

“It’s easy to pick your opinion in front of the television without any responsibility. I am happy. I see a lot of progress in the team, in the club. The whole season is not one game.”

When it came to Lukaku, who is the leading goalscorer in the Premier League this season with 21 goals, Koeman was particularly defiant and questioned if the reporter understood the game as every player can’t always “be a 10” with their performance.

“He is the top scorer of the league. Why now after the Liverpool game do we have to criticize Rom?” Koeman said. “He’s a great striker. He’s working hard. He’s a human boy.”

[ MORE: Koeman lashes out at Klopp ]

Plenty of pressure was put on Lukaku (especially given the uncertain nature of his future at Goodison Park as he is yet to sign a new deal) to deliver the goods and he was shackled impressively by Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip as he hardly had a touch in perhaps Everton’s biggest game of the season.

As for Barkley, the academy product continues to frustrate both Everton fans and neutrals  — plus Koeman who has been far from complimentary about his playmaker at times this season — as the talent is in there but he often picks the wrong pass and tried to do too much when on the ball on Saturday. Barkley was also once again guilty of putting in some shocking tackles, just like he did in the Merseyside derby earlier this season, with his first half tackle on Lovren worthy of a straight red card.

All in all, the defeat was a bit of a reality check for Everton but when all is said and done a top seven finish this season is very good progress in Koeman’s first campaign in charge. Especially when the promise of a new stadium is becoming much more of a reality, plus majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri will give Koeman plenty of money to spend this summer in the transfer market.

A rare off day for Everton’s two talented attackers shouldn’t concern the Toffees faithful too much.