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Eto'o and Baines Take Spotlight Against Burnley, but Barry and McCarthy are the Backbone Once Again

Eto'o rightfully making headlines across Europe for his inspired performance at Burnley this weekend, but others deserve their moment in the spotlight as well.

Gareth Barry looks for a teammate to pass to.
Gareth Barry looks for a teammate to pass to.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos

The Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o turned in his best performance as a Toffee this weekend, nearly picking up a hat trick en route to a 3-1 victory at Turf Moor.

Leighton Baines has received his share of praise after the victory as well, a fair reward for a player who has been wrongly accused of being overrated at times in recent months.

With those two deservedly enjoying a moment in the limelight, I'd like to draw some attention to a significantly less glamorous pair -- Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

This is not to say fans do not appreciate the central midfield pairing. McCarthy has quickly become a fan favorite in his short time at Goodison, while Barry's work carrying the midfield at times last season did not go unappreciated.

But, with Everton forced to play without wingers much of this season, the central midfielders have taken on a role of increased importance.

With 'wingers' like Steven Naismith, Ross Barkley, and Leon Osman, all of whom prefer to pull centrally from their starting wide positions, an increased attacking onus has fallen on full-backs Seamus Coleman and Baines.

Baines and Coleman have been wonderful going forward in the last two league matches, helping Everton to six goals. Of course, this kind of attacking role from defenders leaves the Toffees potentially susceptible to counter-attacks. For this reason, this game-plan may not be a long-term solution, as top teams will likely be able to rip through a defensively fragile side.

But, against Aston Villa and Burnley, the plan has worked. With upcoming league matches against Swansea City, Sunderland, and West Ham United, there seems to be no reason to think it could not continue to be successful.

Still, McCarthy and Barry must do two important things for this configuration to work.

First and most obviously, they are the players that need to cover for the full-backs on the counter. Let's take a look at the following example.

burnley ex 1

In this instance, Baines has the ball down the left wing, as one of the most advanced players in the attack. Osman, playing as the left-sided player in the midfield, has curled toward the middle, giving Baines the space to make a play out wide.

But, as soon as Baines turns the ball over, the break will certainly be on, with the left-back in no position to make a defensive play.

burnley ex 2

Barry then, becomes the first Everton player in position to make a defensive play. This can manifest itself in several ways. Often times, it means Barry (or McCarthy if the sides are reversed) hacks down the attacking player before a move can get going. It is certainly no coincidence that Barry already has three yellow cards this season after 10 last year, while McCarthy has one so far this season in limited playing time, with five last season.

If that is not a viable option though, the central midfielder on the ball side will either come out wide to pursue the player with the ball down the wing, or come centrally to cover the center-back if he is chasing the ball. The off-ball midfielder may cover central, or take the far wing, depending on how far up the pitch the full-back was, in this case, Coleman.

Often times, what ends up happening is a momentary back four with the two center-backs, Barry, and McCarthy. As noted above, teams like Chelsea and Manchester City have attackers that will take advantage of that more often than not, but against middle-tier or lower teams, there is a history of acceptable defending in such situations. We've seen this in the last two weeks, with the team's only goal conceded off a miserable giveaway by Romelu Lukaku.

That giveaway brings us to Barry and McCarthy's second important role.

Giveaways such as Lukaku's against Burnley, that is, those made in bad positions on the pitch, are the plays that are most likely to lead to goals when pushing players up the pitch against inferior opponents. They simply cannot happen on a regular basis.

So, passing accuracy from players who spend the most time on the ball, Barry and McCarthy for Everton, is absolutely crucial for success.

With that in mind, let's take a look at their passing from the Burnley match, courtesy of fourfourtwo.com

mccarthy burnley

barry burnley

The two combined for a remarkable 123 for 135, but those numbers alone do not tell the whole story.

Of their combined 12 awry passes, only five were giveaways in potentially dangerous areas (maybe even less if you narrow the definition of a dangerous area).

So, not only are Barry and McCarthy crucial in shutting down counter-attacks when they happen, they have done a splendid job of keeping the team out of situations that can turn into counters.

Everton Football Club, even while dealing with injuries, has shown it still has more than enough play-makers to create chances and score goals.

To do so though, we've seen an added weight be put on Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. In the last two weeks, we've also seen them come through for the Toffees.