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Ross Barkley Leads Creative Everton Attack

Possibly the most important position when in possession of the ball and here is a preview to the ‘number 10’ role.

Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Last Season's League Stats

Name

Appearances (Starts)

Goals

Assists

Ross Barkley

29 (22)

2

2

Steven Naismith

31 (22)

6

0

Leon Osman

21 (13)

2

2

Tom Cleverley

32

3

0

Key Departures

Unless you were counting on the potential of George Green, then there have been no departures from attacking midfield in the off-season.

Arrivals

As far as arrivals to this, there has been Tom Cleverley on a free transfer and it would also appear that Conor McAleny is to be promoted to the first season and could also play behind the striker.

The signing of Cleverley split the opinion of Everton fans but after an encouraging pre-season campaign, the former Manchester United midfielder seems to have settled into the formation and style of play fairly well. It was first thought that Cleverley could slot in next to Gareth Barry or James McCarthy and there would be rotation in that deeper position. However, Martinez has made clear that he feels Cleverley will be more effective further forward and has played him as the furthest forward central midfielder or in that ‘inside left midfield' position he favours - that Ross Barkley, Leon Osman and Steven Naismith have all occupied in Steven Pienaar's absence.

McAleny has took part past pre-seasons and then been put back into the Under-21s or back out on loan. However there seems to be a different feel of his involvement this pre-season campaign and with the Toffees being light upfront; McAleny is fourth striker going into this season. Going into Martinez's first season it appeared the Toffees' squad was one that was ageing and lacking goals and creativity. Instead of a massive squad overhaul, the introduction of John Stones, signing Romelu Lukaku on-loan and emergence of Ross Barkley put that worry to one side. Perhaps a breakthrough season for McAleny can provide something similar.

Returning Players

For a side that could still do with signing a creative number 10; Everton have quite a few options for an attacking midfield role. We have McAleny and Cleverley joining that group that can play behind the striker but there is still a feeling that it wouldn't harm the Toffees' most optimistic of ambitions to sign a marquee creative player.

Despite that notion, Martinez can already pick from quite a number of players to play in this position.

Not that it wasn't glaringly obvious anyway but it was discovered in the 2013/14 season that Steven Naismith's best position was behind the striker.

The same season Ross Barkley made his breakthrough into the Everton and cemented himself as the first choice in that position...or so we thought.

Kevin Mirallas can play in that position and many believe that would get the best out of him; a reasonable idea because he would see more of the ball. However the few times he has played there the Belgian has been more absent and I would say his most effective position is on the left.

If injuries hadn't dictated Steven Pienaar the last two seasons we could be talking about the South African playing behind the striker rather than on the left or the treatment room. Those injuries don't look like ending unfortunately with the 33-year-old already being ruled for the first game of the season and no return date on the calendar.

Finally, comes Leon Osman. A player with minimal height, pace or strength and yet has defied the odds to become an England international and play over 400 games for Everton. His desire and experience are just a couple of things that should be tapped into by the club's youngsters.

Tactics

Throughout the Martinez reign the tactics have been a 4-2-3-1 formation but there was a period last season were Barkley was used deeper, alongside James McCarthy with Gareth Barry sitting in a 4-3-3 formation.

That formation change could be an option this season, particularly for home games when we need to impose ourselves on the opposition a lot more, with the addition of Tom Cleverley and drop McCarthy deeper and rest Barry.

Personally, when we play 4-2-3-1 I would like the centre of the three slightly deeper, especially when it is Barkley playing there because on too many occasions Barkley received the ball with his back to goal whereas the season before he would be able to get the ball and drive at the opposition.

In terms of how each player in attacking midfielder affects the game, each option provides something different. Naismith gives us everything when pressuring the opposition and therefore there is usually a higher tempo without the ball when he plays. The Scot provides goals in that the position because of his great movement.

Osman provides a little more in build-up play with his creativity and can score goals as well but his legs aren't up to the same sort of pressure as Naismith without the ball.

Barkley is one of those few players who can make something out of nothing, if we think back to his goals against Newcastle United away and Manchester City at home in 2013/14 and at home to Queens Park Rangers last season - all were great goals from nothing. A big part of our play and a reason for why 2013/14 was successful and the football was so attractive to watch, was the directness of Barkley's dribbling which gave us more of an impetus with the ball. That was something we missed last season and getting that back would be as good as a new signing. I can concede that Barkley perhaps doesn't do enough when the opposition has the ball and his decision making is something to be desired. However the latter is something which will develop with experience and the former shouldn't really be a concern for a player we are giving the license to play and express himself. The crowd needs to get off Barkley's back and remember he isn't the finished article and if we nurture him and build the team around him, keep giving him the ball - something will happen.

Tom Cleverley adds a mix of the three players, as he showed in the latter part of the season at Aston Villa he can score goals when given a license to go forward. He can also create chances like Barkley can, just with a different style, and like Osman is a useful and steady player in our build-up play.

Summary

Ultimately, behind the striker can be the most important position on the pitch in terms of creating chances. That hasn't been the case with Everton in the recent past with a lot of chances coming from the full-backs more than anywhere else. Having said that, if Barkley can rediscover the effectiveness he showed in his breakthrough season and if Cleverley fits in as well as he has in pre-season, in competitive games then that could change.