What a tough year for the Everton engine room. After being so composed, commanding, and calm in 2013/14 the wheels fell of a little, especially in the first half of 2014/15.
At the start of the season it looked positive: Gareth Barry had signed permanently after being imperious last season; Muhamed Besic joined for what looked like a bargain £4m after an attention grabbing World Cup in Brazil; and the return to fitness of Darron Gibson. Add to that the experience of Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, the excellence and workrate of James McCarthy, the developing Ross Barkley and unknown quantities of loanee Christian Atsu and Aiden McGeady and it looked like an exciting mix of strength in depth and quality.
No-one could have foreseen a couple of things though; Gareth Barry's terrible nosedive in form, and the lack of playing minutes for Besic. The two are interlinked: Roberto Martinez refusing to rotate enough, leading to Barry, at 34 years old, being exhausted. That felt like an innate lack of trust in the Bosnian. Barry's 33 games in the Premier League - actually 1 more than 2013/14 - were supplemented by his 9 - yes 9! - appearances in the Europa League. When you delve into the stats his pass completion rate was not too different but the key passes stat is telling: 13 this season vs. 37 last. Tiredness and a lack of confidence both hindered his performances, even more so than his age.
James McCarthy's season was disrupted by a hamstring injury at a critical moment, but the Irishman was still Everton's most consistent performer. As a player he's easy to like, his workrate and commitment to the team is second to none but the constant stories linking him with a move away and talk of contracts is distracting. Fellow Irish international Darron Gibson had another season to forget with a couple of decent cameo appearances early in 2015 before another injury, broken metatarsal this time, put paid to any thoughts of a sustained run in the team.
Those problems at the heart of the midfield were the keenest felt, the solidity of the 2013/14 side had stemmed from the strong spine to that team. What exacerbated it though were the difficulties in the attacking midfield positions. Even before a ball had been kicked was the news that Ross Barkley had been injured in training and would be out for months. In the end he returned sooner but was not the same player. More confidence issues and an impatient home crowd, as well as spells out wide where he was ineffective and wasted all made 2014/15 live up to the "difficult second season" tag. Although surprisingly his pass completion rate was the highest of all the midfield players.
Elsewhere injury ruined Steven Pienaar's season, and even when in the team the South African seemed unfit. Chelsea loan ranger Christian Atsu barely saw any action and Aiden McGeady disappeared after Easter after his inconsistency infuriated Goodison Park. If any player has the potential it's the Irish winger but too often he refused to work back, and he wasted the final ball. Leon Osman continued to be Everton's Mr Consistency, playing wide, behind the front two, and as one of the two holding players, yet he was another disrupted heavily by a serious injury.
So all in all it was a season to forget for the Everton engine room, only McCarthy and Besic came out of it with reputations enhanced and even that was against the backdrop of a season's worth of disappointment elsewhere.