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Three solutions to Everton's Ross Barkley Problem

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What can the Toffees do to deal with the midfielder's absence?

Jan Kruger

While every Evertonian was no doubt relieved to hear that Ross Barkley's time on the sidelines is likely to be closer to two months than the five previously feared, his absence remains a pressing issue.

Barkley, clearly one of the major players around which Roberto Martinez Is building his side, was influential if inconsistent last season, but had been expected to flourish this year. That may yet happen, but in the meantime the Toffees must work out how they're going to cope without their brightest young star. In the next eight weeks Everton face Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, as well as commencing their Europa League and League Cup campaigns. The Blues can't afford to just wait for Ross to come back, but there are several other approaches they can take.

Short-term cover

The most immediate, sensible and likely solution to Barkley's injury is to make do with a stopgap until his return. Steven Naismith played at number 10 against Leicester City on Saturday, a position he is more suited to than the right wing role that he is often asked to play. But while the Scot's movement is excellent and he has a knack for snatching a goal, his passing and link play leave a lot to be desired.

There are other options: Leon Osman can operate as an advanced midfielder while Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas could both be played through the middle, but each has its own drawbacks. Osman's fitness is declining, Mirallas has never convinced in the role, and moving Pienaar away from his left flank buddy Leighton Baines breaks up one of the most fruitful partnerships Everton have.

With all that in mind, a loan seems a good option. So far only Christian Atsu has joined the Blues on a temporary basis, but with Martinez's track record more loans seem a near certainty. A short-term deal for a playmaker - Morgan Amalfitano has been mooted - would help ease the pain of Barkley's injury without breaking the bank.

A long-term addition

Another consequence of Barkley's injury is that it has drawn attention to Everton's lack of depth in a key area. As outlined above, only Steven Naismith can really be considered a like-for-like replacement (positionally, if not in playing style) for Barkley, and so there is clearly room for an extra body in attacking midfield.

Martinez might argue, correctly, that sourcing another striker is his main priority, but facing a gruelling early season schedule, and with Barkley out until at least October, the team's shortcomings behind the forward can't be ignored. Investing in a permanent signing would be riskier, and more expensive than securing a loan, but it would also provide a more concrete solution to an issue that will have to be addressed at some point anyway. Finding an affordable, available creative midfielder might be a difficult, but it's certainly an option worth considering.

Change the system

The third solution to dealing with Barkley's absence is to switch up the Everton team to accommodate the players who are available. Though it has met with mixed results, Roberto Martinez has repeatedly experimented by playing a back three, and, in theory at least, moving to a 3-5-2 would place less emphasis on the attacking midfield position that Barkley usually occupies.

Instead of playing with an advanced playmaker as in the Blues' regular 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 would see a trio of deeper-lying centre midfielders operating behind a front pairing, with Muhamed Besic, James McCarthy, or potentially even Darron Gibson, suiting the role of box-to-box midfielder well.

Perhaps the most effective formation to adopt until Barkley returns, however, would be a 4-3-3. Three centre-mids covering the defence whilst orchestrating from deep (ideal for Gareth Barry) and a versatile front three able to cut in from the flanks would play to many of the current squad's strengths. Martinez refrained from using the system often last season, but when 4-3-3 clicked - most notably against Arsenal at Goodison Park, a game Barkley didn't start - it proved devastating.

With the Gunners visiting again this weekend, who knows? Maybe history will repeat itself.