|Name||PL Appearances (starts)||Goals||Assists||Yellow/Red|
|Gareth Barry||32 (0)||3||4||10/0|
|James McCarthy||31 (3)||1||3||5/0|
|Darron Gibson||1 (0)||0||0||0/0|
Gareth Barry made his eagerly anticipated permanent move to Goodison from Manchester City. His partnership with James McCarthy was the axis upon which much of Everton’s play was built on last season, therefore it was vital he stayed part of the side. Muhamed Besic impressed at the World Cup with Bosnia and has made an impression in the three friendlies he has played in so far. Already he looks a bargain at £4million and must be pushing for a starting place against Leicester this weekend.
We laugh now, but many Evertonians thought James McCarthy was over-priced at £13million when he joined from Wigan last deadline day. He is probably worth twice that now. The Ireland international was outstanding alongside Barry last year, full of energy and running as well as having great positional sense and an eye for a pass. Rumours of a move to Manchester United have ebbed and flowed throughout the summer and although all the noises coming from Goodison suggest he is going nowhere, the fans will be relieved to see the transfer window close with McCarthy still safely ensconced inside Finch Farm.
The forgotten man of Everton’s midfield is Darron Gibson, who has been out since October nursing a knee injury picked up on international duty. When he plays Gibson has been an outstanding performer but it questions makes remain over his long-term fitness, especially after such a serious injury. He will be nursed back to health carefully by Roberto Martinez and if he can get back to somewhere near his best, he will still be a key asset in the squad.
Beyond that youngsters Conor Grant and England Under-19 captain Ryan Ledson may find themselves in and around the first-team squad on occasion this season,
Roberto Martinez’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation places a lot of emphasis on the two defensive midfielders, making it a key position in the side. Everton tended to struggle when either Barry or McCarthy didn’t play last year – the critical 3-2 home defeat by Crystal Palace a key example. The arrival of Besic and return to fitness of Gibson should help, while also giving Martinez the option to play a midfield three, or even five including wing backs in a 5-3-2 formation.
Barry and McCarthy will start the season as first choice but don’t be surprised if Besic muscles in on the action sooner rather than later, either replacing the ageing Barry or as part of a midfield three. The exciting Ledson – tipped to succeed Barkley as the latest superstar academy graduate – bolsters the numbers still further, though don’t expect him to be over-exposed to senior football by Martinez. Overall defensive midfield is now one of the strongest areas of the squad and one that should be able to cope with the added rigors of European football.