Leighton Baines says Everton is ready to rub shoulders with the best in the Europa League – and prepare themselves for future glory in the process.
The defender insists the Blues must aim high, and target nothing less than lifting the trophy in Warsaw next year
Baines believes the Goodison factor can help them get off to a winning start as Wolfsburg arrive in Merseyside tomorrow for the opening group H encounter.
Everton face ties against French outfit Lille and Krasnodar – a line-up some have described as resembling a Champions League group – and Baines hopes the standard will bring out the best in Roberto Martinez’s men, and help hone them into a side capable of competing in Europe’s elite club competition soon.
Everton’s Leighton Baines battles for the ball West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison during the Barclays Premier League match at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
He said: “We’ve got to think big. It’s a long competition but you want to get to the final of every cup competition you’re in and ultimately win them and that’s the aim.
“I heard our group described as being like a Champions League group in terms of the calibre of the clubs in it. I don’t know much about the Russian side but Wolfsburg and Lille are teams with those kinds of credentials which you’ve seen play at that level.
“You imagine it will be a really competitive group. You need those games. There’s no point playing against the weaker teams in the competition.
“You want to qualify from the group and go as far as you can, and you want the big nights at Goodison or wherever it is along the way.”
It has, according to Baines, been clear to see how much Martinez in particular is relishing testing his managerial mettle in Europe for the first time, but the left-back admits it is an excitement shared throughout the Goodison dressing room.
“You can see how excited the manager is,” he said. “He’s always excited but particularly so about Europe because it gives us an opportunity to showcase playing good football and the things he’s trying to instil in us.
“It’s the ideal stage to go and show that we’re moving on to another level.
“As I say there are good teams in the group and that’s what you want. You wan to go and play against good sides and try and progress. You also get some of the teams coming in from the Champions League after this stage then so it means more potential big games. That’s what you want to be in Europe for.”
Baines signed his new contract, snubbing interest from Manchester United, before European football was confirmed as back on the agenda for the Toffees.
But if anything the 29-year-old believes they were unlucky not to have qualified for the Champions League,
“The points we finished with last year could have got us Champions League in another season,” he said, “We were unlucky in that respect but I’m made up we’ve got Europa League football now because it gives us that different test.
“We experience different styles and it’s going to be really interesting. At the same time we want to improve on what we did last season in the league and keep moving things forward.
“We’ve got a bigger squad and hopefully that can cope with the amount of games we have.”
Everton’s players gathered together in Finch Farm to watch the Europa League draw together, and Baines admits he was hoping for a match-up with one club especially,
“The one team I was hoping for was Celtic but they didn’t end up in our group unfortunately,” he said. “That would have been a great game to play in.
“On the day (of the draw) we trained in the morning and then all went upstairs and sat and watched it together.
“There was some confusion because they were drawing teams out and we couldn’t figure out who was in what group! It wasn’t coming up on the screen.
“But I think we all got a buzz from it and we hope it becomes a regular thing now.”
? Tickets are still available for tomorrow’s Wolfsburg clash and Evertonians are encouraged to buy early to avoid potential queues at the stadium on the evening.
Tickets are available online at evertonfc.com or call 0871 663 1878.
Alternatively, you can collect a ticket in person by heading to the Park End Box Office at Goodison Park, Everton Two in Liverpool One or TicketQuarter in Queen Square.
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