Everton laid down a marker last week when they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in over two decades. They followed up that result with a fantastic 1-1 draw away to Premier League leaders Arsenal, producing an eye-catching performance to hold one of the most in-form teams in Europe.
Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, has been their main man in attack, posed the biggest threat and made the most headlines. Meanwhile, Gerard Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, has shone with his skill and guile every time he’s been given a chance. However, Gareth Barry’s signing, also on loan, from Manchester City has been just as fruitful.
When the England international joined the Citizens from Aston Villa, he was a central figure in the team but as the squad evolved and they had to take the attack to their opponents, Barry’s understated approach began to draw criticism.
The midfielder isn’t blessed with the pace to burst through the middle or the ability to consistently pick out defense splitting passes and was often kept out of the team by Javi Garcia or Jack Rodwell last season. After falling out of favour with his club, his chances for a call-up to the England squad also fell by the wayside but now seem to be restored following his move to Everton for the season.
Barry fell out of favour at City
The most impressive part about his move is the way in which he has complimented Roberto Martinez’s side while he was adjudged to hinder City. His style of play was deemed slow and predictable at the Etihad Stadium last season but at Goodison Park this time around, that’s translated to control and reliability.
With the quick passing and attacking play implemented under Martinez, Barry was arguably his most crucial signing of the summer. A midfield anchor is vital to Everton’s system and the former Villa man has played that role to perfection.
The Toffees need a midfielder in his mould to track back, tackle and make interceptions while he’s equally important on the ball when recycling possession and making himself available to receive a pass, thereby bailing out a colleague who may be in a spot of bother.
New signing, James McCarthy partners Barry in midfield and is perhaps the more dynamic and attack-minded of the two while the 32 year-old is comfortable keeping things simple. However, it’s not just the manager’s confidence in him that’s seen Barry flourish, Everton’s system has also had a hand in that.
He's been an anchor in Everton's midfield
Martinez opts to stretch the pitch by using width to his team’s advantage. The full-backs are pushed high up the pitch to support the attack and in possession Barry normally sits in front of the two central defenders while the remaining seven outfield players get forward. This creates a huge area for him to protect when their play breaks down but it also offers him plenty of space on the ball and he can comfortably spread it wide to initiate another move.
At City however, they had begun to play very narrow last season and Barry struggled in that congestion. They were made to try and force the issue through the middle in some games with Yaya Toure driving through the opposition’s midfield, something Barry isn’t capable of. Their lack of width denied the midfielder the opportunity to spread play and he was made to either pass it backwards or try and thread balls through tight corridors and would often get it wrong.
Such is Barry’s importance to this Everton side that the only defeat they’ve suffered this season came against his parent club, a game he couldn’t partake in. He’s notched up three assists so far and is yet to get on the score sheet for the Merseyside club but given that his job is to go about his business quietly and facilitate the play of the rest of the team, Martinez can be proud of his shrewd season-long acquisition.
Barry has flourished in Martinez's system
From Everton’s perspective, it’s a slight concern that their success so far has been down to several players on loan but if it helps them get into a Champions League spot, perhaps they’ll have the money to target more permanent signings.Without any of the flash or hype of the likes of Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley or Deulofeu, Barry has been one of Everton’s standout players this season and there’s an argument to be made that those attacking players are only allowed to flourish because of the assurance he provides. At this rate, the midfielder is certainly making a case for his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad while Manuel Pellegrini may be reconsidering his value as well.
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