Transfer deadline day hasn’t produced particularly good memories for Everton supporters to savour over the years.
Finances are tight at the club but with the latest TV money deal, last season’s sixth-place finish bonus and a new manager in Roberto Martinez to back, Everton desperately needed to do some notable business and they positively delivered in the remaining few hours of transfer window with Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku joining on season-long loan deals from Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, whilst £13m of the £33.5m recouped from the sales of Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) and Victor Anichebe (West Bromwich Albion) was invested on James McCarthy from Wigan.
In total, Everton have signed seven new players under Martinez, although the emergence of John Stones and Ross Barkley so far also feel like new additions, and the new era at Goodison Park under the Spaniard’s stewardship is now in full swing.
Gareth Barry: The Anchorman
The secret to Everton’s success during Moyes’ 11-year tenure with the Toffees was down to their solid structure at the back and the lethal wing-play between their full-backs and wide men.
But Martinez’s philosophy of how to win a football match is poles apart from the Scotsman’s and new additions, in the centre of midfield in particular, were absolutely vital, even before Fellaini’s exit, if he wanted to see Everton control possession in games with great vigour going forwards.
For most of last season, the midfield pairing tended to be Phil Neville, now retired, and Leon Osman, which enticed the opposition to target that area as an obvious sign of weakness due to the lack of physicality and creativity between the two.
Recruitments were desperately needed on Monday for all of those reasons and thus Everton have turned to Gareth Barry, whom many Manchester City fans still believe was needed at the Etihad Stadium this season.
The way Martinez likes to set up a backline of four is to have two central defenders wide apart, a defensive-minded midfielder just in front to pick up the ball as they look to play out from the back and the full-backs high up the pitch. With Darron Gibson currently out injured, Everton have used Leon Osman in the deeper midfield role for the opening three games of the new Premier League season and he’s looked fairly uncomfortable to say the least.
Barry is arriving with an abundance of experience in the anchorman position and is exactly what the club needs now that a change in style is being implemented from the touchline. Last season, with Fellaini being pushed further forward in a bid to score more goals for the team, Everton lacked a real tackler in the midfield and somebody with a calm presence, even if it is just making the ‘simple pass’ at times.
Although Barry only made 31 appearances last season, he managed to win 80% of his tackles which was better than Osman (78%), Neville (77%), Fellaini (73%) and Gibson (61%).
Barry also proved the superior when it came to passing with an overall completion rate of 86%, which was again better than Osman (85%), Neville (84%), Gibson (79%) and Fellaini (77%). The 32-year-old is likely to compete with Gibson for a regular spot in the deep-lying midfield position that Martinez craves, as Ross Barkley and James McCarthy are now unquestionably the future of the club.
The former Aston Villa captain was signed by Manchester City for £12m in 2009 but was heavily coveted the season before by Rafael Benitez at Liverpool, who admitted he preferred Barry’s all-round game over Xabi Alonso’s at one point.
Although Barry got the better of Gibson when it came to stats last year, the best thing to come from his signing is that Everton now have a lot more options in an area that has been incredibly fragile since the departure of Mikel Arteta in 2011. They’ve now got somebody in Barry that wants to get on the ball and ease any pressure on his team-mates in certain situations, which is more commonly known in the game as ‘Recycling Possession’.
For example, West Brom in the second game of the season continuously put two men on every Everton player and therefore Martinez was crying out for somebody to ask for the ball and keep things moving in midfield with better vision than Osman, whilst staying disciplined with a tackling charisma.
Barry will move into space when that threat is on and ‘recycle’ possession by starting a new attack through Barkley, McCarthy or Everton’s wide players in Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas, Leighton Baines or Steven Pienaar.
Fabio Capello in the 2010 World Cup as England boss described Barry as the “water carrier” on the football field and that is as good of a description as you’ll find. He doesn’t grab the headlines as a star man, but is exceptionally crucial for any team through his hard work and competence.
Barry, who is currently in the final year of his contract, was in the midst of world class players for both club and country in the City dressing room but became a regular stalwart in the teams that got their hands on the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League title in 2012 under Roberto Mancini. He has the potential to be a shrewd acquisition for Everton and could have an important part to play in the team this season as Martinez looks to get the building blocks in place.
James McCarthy: Martinez’s Gem at Wigan
With three players previously affiliated with Wigan Athletic and Martinez in Arouna Koné, Antolín Alcaraz and Joel Robles already signed before James McCarthy, some Everton supporters were unsure whether they wanted to see a fourth – especially for £13m.
However, the excuse that these players are dangerous buys purely because they were part of a relegated side last season is flawed. All four players also helped the Latics lift the FA Cup over big-spending Manchester City at Wembley in the same season and more importantly, players such as, Joleon Lescott (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Phil Jagielka (Sheffield United) and Leighton Baines (Wigan) all moved to the club from lower ranked teams once and have excelled in the Blue jersey since.
Most managers starting at a new club always try to bring in players that they’ve previously worked with and that is no different with Martinez and the new adventure he is embarking on at Everton. The style of play he is trying to stamp down requires a certain type of player and McCarthy without doubt falls into that category.
Martinez needs somebody on the pitch that embodies exactly what he preaches, just like Brendan Rodgers did with Joe Allen last season, but more importantly McCarthy is a talented midfielder and proved when Wigan met Everton in the FA Cup last season why Moyes was also rumoured to be an admirer of his talent.
The 22-year-old hailed Martinez as a “tactical genius” and that he was the sole reason why Wigan won the FA Cup in May just passed. He identified McCarthy in 2009 from Hamilton and managed to convince him to opt for the DW Stadium in order to develop as a professional, despite Benitez doing all he could to try and bring him to Anfield for the same £1.2m figure.
McCarthy, who played all 38 games for Wigan last season, was mainly asked to pick up the ball in the deeper role that Barry or Gibson will likely be deployed in, with a 93% defensive zone pass completion, but he is a lot quicker, strong in a tackle and can slot in just ahead to get the best out of Barkley and whatever lone striker Martinez chooses to field.
The Republic of Ireland international had an 87% pass completion rate overall in 12/13 and had an 82% success mark in the attacking zone of the pitch. McCarthy will be regimented in the heart of Everton’s midfield and feed the ball into Barkley’s feet so he can make those driving runs through the middle with options left, right and ahead.
Since Arteta moved to Arsenal, Everton have lacked a midfielder not only with good awareness on the pitch that Barry can fill, but also with that cutting edge to find those in the final third and that is an area where McCarthy does need to improve on, with only 72% of his final third passes being completed and just 25% of his open play balls going forwards. However, he met England in an international friendly in May and completely controlled the game, earning various plaudits for his composure at such a young age.
He has a tall frame, is strong on both feet and loves to dictate the tempo of the game, creating 34 chances from open play, not counting assists, for Wigan last season. McCarthy is in the same mould as a young Michael Carrick in his days at West Ham and Tottenham and just like the man himself, will only get better as time goes on.
Like Carrick, who undoubtedly had the best year of his career at the age of 32 last season, McCarthy isn’t the greatest goalscorer, with just three strikes in all 38 games last season, but players of his type are incredibly hard to find on the transfer market and that’s why Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs have all been linked with him throughout his time on English soil.
Native players such as, Coleman, Gibson and Shane Duffy will be able to help him settle at Everton quickly and he can soon prove why he is worth the £13m outlay. His addition to the squad means Martinez now has more food for thought when considering what formation would be best to use to gain a tactical edge in matches and that depth and ability to switch to a Plan B or C when things aren’t working have both been desperately needed for years.
Romelu Lukaku: The Long-Awaited Goalscorer
Over the last few years, Everton have been labelled as the ‘draw specialists’ after racking up a total of 41 league stalemates from the last three Premier League campaigns.
The huge amount of draws and the need for a 15-20 goals a season striker were two of the reasons why they narrowly missed out on European football last campaign and the lack of resources at the club mean it is extremely hard for that classy finisher to be brought in permanently.
But with £6m being presented on the table by West Brom for Victor Anichebe, that money coming in allowed Martinez to go out and find a clinical striker for a significant loan fee and therefore Chelsea forward, Romelu Lukaku has been targeted to solve the somewhat never-ending goal conundrum at Everton.
The 20-year-old is still trying to find his feet in England after moving to Chelsea from Anderlecht in 2011 for a fee of £10m, but he spent last season out on loan with West Brom and surprised everybody by scoring an impressive 17 Premier League goals to help lift the Baggies up to eighth-place in the table.
Martinez prefers to play a system that aims to get the best out of the solitary striker and wants them to have a good touch and pace to beat a defender. Lukaku has raw speed, skill and has been likened on many occasions to Didier Drogba for his strength when controlling the ball and shrugging off defenders.
Arouna Koné, who followed Martinez to Everton from Wigan for £5m, is also capable at running the channels and using the ball to bring others into play like Lukaku, whilst Nikica Jelavic remains the club’s most natural poacher in the box but he relies on his team-mates to provide the service otherwise he won’t score.
At Wigan, Martinez’s preferred front three of Shaun Maloney, Koné and Callum McManaman were all interchanging and adaptable to various challenges and he wants Mirallas, Jelavic and Pienaar to follow suit, however Jelavic is a penalty box player and dropping deep to pick up the ball and create a goal himself just isn’t in his DNA.
Last season, Lukaku almost scored more goals than both Koné (11) and Jelavic (7) put together and would often pick up the ball on the left or the right hand side and accelerate at the opposition defence, with 88% (15) of his goals coming from inside the box.
His power at that speed is very hard to stop and Everton have needed a striker like him to win the ball and burst forward with it for the last few seasons, because although Barkley has now emerged onto the scene, they don’t have that decisive Number 10 player who can thread the ball through the eye of a needle and that’s why Jelavic is starting to suffer despite all his hard work chasing lost causes.
Dominating and controlling the game through patient build-up and creativity is central to just about everything Martinez demands from his players but the change in system so far hasn’t made much difference for Jelavic’s form, with his last competitive goal coming against Manchester City in March, although Lukaku’s arrival could fire a warning and give the former Rangers man the wake-up call that’ll bring him back to life in front of goal.
Lukaku and Koné play facing the goal and bring others in to play more effectively than Jelavic, with the new recruits reaching nine assists between them last season (Kone 5, Lukaku 4) whilst the Croatian could only create two assists for his team-mates.
Although Koné’s stats are impressive for a side that were perennial strugglers in the promised land and has similar qualities to Lukaku, the Belgium international is a better finisher and scores all different types of goals.
Lukaku scored 29% (5) of his goals with his weaker right foot, with Koné scoring no goals with his less prominent left foot, and he also proved the better with his head as 24% (4) of his strikes came from it, whilst both Koné and Jelavic only scored twice each.
The creativity has been at Everton for years, with Baines creating the second most chances in Europe last season with 116, but the main thing lacking has always been a prolific goalscorer. Lukaku will eat up the right kind of service, whilst Belgium team-mate Mirallas will be able to drift out the right flank and provide the weighted passes for him to hit with his solid left foot.
All three players are coming to Everton with qualities that have been needed for a long time at the club, but also for Martinez to really get the team playing his way with a lot more cutting edge.
James McCarthy and Gareth Barry will bring more tranquillity into the midfield and the ball will be switched around the pitch a lot more fluidly. Both players can tackle, read the game well and will help take the burden of creativity of the likes of Baines, Coleman, Pienaar and Gibson in particular.
Lukaku is a goalscorer and has the potential to be one of the best in Europe when he reaches his peak, hence the jubilant celebrations when his signing was announced, and he has already admitted himself that he can’t wait to try and adapt to Martinez’s open and expansive tactics.
Keeping hold of Baines’ attacking acumen is also a real triumph this summer and Everton now have a good core of young players in Lukaku, Barkley, McCarthy, Stones and Gerard Deulofeu that will help the wiser heads in the team and light up Martinez’s debut season with the right mix.