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Everton Player Profiles: Part 1: The Playmakers

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Diniyar Bilyaletdinov of Everton looks on during the pre season friendly between Birmingham City and Everton at St Andrews on July 30, 2011 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov of Everton looks on during the pre season friendly between Birmingham City and Everton at St Andrews on July 30, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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In the run-up to the new season I'm going to introduce you to the squad - apologies to older readers - and analyse where Everton have depth and shortage - whilst perhaps indicating some of the strengths and weaknesses within the squad. Finally whilst assessing the various components within the team I will discuss their prospects for the upcoming season.

Obviously there have been several topics on the lack of transfer activity since the close of last season - that's rather been doing to death.

Instead of going all morbid on you on that subject I will instead analyse what we have rather that just what we wish for!

So, with that in mind this is a mini-series of four parts: Playmakers, Goalscorers, Defenders and Wildcards - the last of the four being the more versatile players in the squad who don't always lend themselves to being described as one of the other three categories.

For the topic of Playmakers I have restricted this to the midfielders rather than the obviously significant part played in creating chances by some of the 'Wildcards' and the obvious threat from crosses that come from Leighton Baines. In the current squad there are five players who I think meet this criteria - namely Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman and Diniyar Biliyaletdinov  - as well as two up-and-coming stars in Magaye Gueye and Ross Barkley.

No one would doubt that Everton have a strong squad but there is a certain lack of depth in this particular department. This is mainly due to the limited fitness of Arteta, the indifferent form of Billy and the inexperience of the two younger players at this level. Leon Osman on the other hand has been a fairly constant factor in Everton's line-up in the past two or three years. Mikel Arteta can be a wonderful footballer but I suspect opponents have Everton a little bit sussed in this department by using heavy handed tactics on Arteta - a constant target of opposition hard men. Secondly the Basque has been something of a shadow of his previous self since picking up long term injuries. The most infuriating aspect of his play is his desire to take all the free-kicks and corners (although lately Leighton Baines has assumed more of these tasks). He's not getting any younger either. It's a source of amazement to most Evertonians that he hasn't been considered (let alone selected to play) for the Spanish squad. It's probably too late now with his nation being so strong - oh well their loss is our gain as they say! Perhaps - fingers crosses - we'll see a return to the swaggering Mikel of old with the pinpoint passes and the exquisite finishing we all remember from the past. Whatever else one can say of him it's true his loyalty to the club - commonplace at Goodison it must be said - is pleasing in the modern era. 

Leon Osman on the other hand has flourished in recent times. Yet another footballer with bags of talent and a willingness to work forever for his team he is, like Arteta, a pleasure to watch. Perhaps his stature is considered by many to be a disadvantage but if you play the ball on the deck you don't need big men to play the game.  It truly is a shame he has been overlooked for international honours because he is a footballer who could do a job for England - busy, creative, deceptive and occasionally blessed with a great finish with both his feet and his head (check the Larissa goal, re-run the goal against City last season). When called upon to play on the wings (not so hot down the right) or up front as an emergency striker you never get less than 100% from him.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov - or Billy for short - is something of an enigma. We all grew accustomed to the excuse that he hadn't had a break in the first season at Goodison but that wore a little thin in the last season when his contribution was limited. He clearly needs to grow into his responsibilities because he does have a great finish on him. Unfortunately he's not so adept at some of the water-carrying aspects of the job - such as facing up to the opponent and taking on and beating an opponent. Perhaps there really is a world-beater in there and it will emerge next season to show the full panoply of his skills.

On the fringes of the team are Magaye Gueye and Ross Barkley. Gueye missed out to a large extent last season - save for some cameo roles (mostly in the Carling Cup where he did impress) and he is still a youngster. There's every chance that he will get more opportunities to impress in the coming season. He certainly has a cross in his armoury and that kind of ability should not be overlooked too readily. Ross Barkley is another young player many Everton fans are expecting great things from - perhaps he'll even start the opener at Spurs in the absence of many others. At first glance he seems a very strong player for his age, blessed with quick feet and a quick mind. 

Whilst there are some causes for concern in terms of depth, experience and availability of the 'Playmakers' there remains enough ability within the squad to provide a degree of cover in the absence of the aforementioned. If Mikel Arteta quickly rediscovers the flare of old and the remainder make progress too then there could be plenty to enthuse about in the coming season. Whilst once upon a time an Arteta-free Everton side seemed short on creativity this is no longer the case...

In part 2 I will look at the Finishers - those charged with putting the ball in the net!