On the final day of Roberto Martinez’s first Everton transfer window, I, and many other Evertonians, were sat watching and waiting for the Spaniard to make his move and improve squad that was crying out for more depth.
He had previously recruited James McCarthy, Joel Robles and Arouna Kone from his previous side Wigan early in the window and we were made to wait a long time for him to make his next move.
When he did, it appeared a stroke of genius. He managed to secure the loan signings of Romelu Lukaku, James McCarthy, Gerard Deulofeu and Gareth Barry, adding a variety of pace, power and experience to his squad.
My personal opinion of Barry was not a good one. From what I had seen over his years at Aston Villa and Manchester City and on the occasions he was selected for England was a central midfielder possessing no pace or drive, something which the truly world class midfielders in the league had an abundance of. From the moment he made his Goodison bow against Chelsea, and slid in to clear the ball from crossing the line when Samuel Eto’o had an open goal to pass into he began to win me over.
Time and time again last season he proved me wrong and became a vital cog in the machine that Roberto Martinez was building. His calming influence and passing precision allowed Everton to build attacks from the back while his combative tackling helped break up opposition attacks and allowed players such as Barkley and Mirallas counter with pace and power. Another huge bonus was the relationship he built up with James McCarthy. Barry’s brain and McCarthy’s energy saw Everton to victory both home and away time and time again. It also saw Barry awarded with a three year deal. Something which, regardless of his good form could have been seen as a gamble given he was to turn thirty-four in the forthcoming season.
This season, however, the tide appears to have changed. Everything I expected when Barry was first unveiled as a blues player has been exactly what I have seen. The problem, I believe, was evident during the farcical and poorly arranged pre-season campaign. I was in attendance at the game versus Tranmere, when Barry was the worst player in an Everton shirt. This, however, could be excused. It was, after all, Everton’s first game of pre-season and was probably the type of nothing game that Barry had played hundreds of times before in his career. I began to become seriously worried about his form during the game against Paderborn in Germany. The team that day had all the issues that the current one has now and Barry was again the blues worst player.
The season didn’t begin well for the team and Barry himself, while not playing particularly poorly; he never managed to reach the high standards he had set the previous season.
His form really took a turn for the worst when McCarthy picked up an injury versus Wolfsburg. In the following game he was caught on the ball moments before half time which led to the home side taking the lead and Everton could never recover. Since then he has become more and more sluggish on the ball, often giving the ball away or being caught in possession. One big worry for me is the ease in which teams appear to be able to run at Everton’s back four. Often one simple pass can turn a team from defending to out numbering our defensive line. One of Barry’s key duties as a holding midfielder is surely to prevent this happening? Something which he done so well last season.
For me our best performance in recent weeks, and our only win in our last six games, came when Barry was not in the side. Playing Ross Barkley in the deeper role gives Everton a drive and energy about them, something which has undoubtedly been missing this season. Despite this and Barry’s poor form he appears to be the first name on the team sheet. He has not missed a single game this season when he has been fit. In addition to that it would appear that Martinez is not willing to substitute him during a game, even when it is apparent from the stands that his side-ways passing and slow pace is hindering the team’s performance. During the game against Manchester City he was, again, the worst Everton player on the pitch, however Martinez opted to substitute Mo Besic instead, a player who has been in fine form since being introduced to the starting line-up and offers the blues the energy and grit in midfield that they so often seem short of.
The blues manager’s biggest dilemma is what he does when McCarthy is fit again. Does he have the courage and quite frankly, the balls, to stand up to his senior midfield man and leave him out the side, allowing the younger more energetic midfielders McCarthy, Barkley and Besic to take on his role and drive the blues forward with pace and power once again. Or does he stick with his tried and tested midfielder who appears to be holding the side back.