Barkley targets finishing above Liverpool

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Ross Barkley wants Everton to finish above Liverpool in the Premier League this season and feels he has responded well to criticism from manager Ronald Koeman. 

The Toffees could move to within five points of their local rivals by beating Sunderland at home on Saturday, with Koeman's men unbeaten in the league since losing to Liverpool in December.

Barkley has scored four goals and provided five assists as Everton established themselves in seventh place, but the 23-year-old believes the team can climb above the Reds.

"I'd like that [to finish above Liverpool]," Barkley told Sky Sports. "I'm an Everton supporter so to see us finish higher than them would be great.

"But they're higher than us at the minute and we've obviously got to focus on one game at a time and see where we finish at the end of the season."

Koeman suggested in December Barkley needs to improve if he is to fulfil his potential and the England international believes those comments have spurred him on to more consistent performances.

"I played a lot of games at a young age and I feel like I'm an older player in the side now," he said. "I communicate a lot more on the pitch and in the training room now.

"You can take a bit of criticism from your manager now and then, but you have to react to it which I have done. 

"Earlier in the season, I was a little bit inconsistent and I think I've got to a point now where I understand what I need to do, in games and preparing for games. I'm showing that with more consistency now than I had earlier in the season."

Barkley made headlines by celebrating prior to slotting home his most recent goal against Bournemouth, but the midfielder insists the gesture was not intended to be disrespectful.

"It's something I used to do as a kid and it just happened naturally - it was just instinct," Barkley said. "I knew it was the last minute and I'd rounded the keeper so I knew I was scoring and I had the confidence to celebrate before I scored.

"I was not trying to take the mickey out of Bournemouth, it was just more the enjoyment of the game."