Flying high in the table and cutting teams to ribbons with vibrant, offensive play, there has naturally been a lot of chatter about Everton this season.
A section of it has been a little negative – perhaps born out of envy – with critics bemoaning Roberto Martinez’s astute use of the loan system. But the overwhelming majority has been upbeat and centred on the fearless performances of some fantastic young players. Most notably Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley.
The latter in particular has drawn a vast majority of the recent plaudits. Pretty heady ones at that as of late; his manager Roberto Martinez has tentatively compared him to Michael Ballack and Paul Gascoigne. But sift through the hyperbole that has surrounded the aforementioned trio, and there is another Everton midfielder who has been hugely impressive this season, but in a much more understated and subtle fashion.
That man is James McCarthy, a player who Everton shelled out £13 million for in the final hours of the summer transfer window. It was a price that certainly raised some querying eyebrows, especially after losing the talismanic Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United and David Moyes on the same day. But you will struggle to find any Evertonians that say anything other than McCarthy looks a snip at that price. His award as the club’s November player of the month only compounds that.
McCarthy’s capture has been the most significant catalyst for Everton’s seamless transition from the Moyes era to the Martinez one. Stylistically, his influence is absolutely vital, primarily due to his unrelenting energy and cool head in possession. McCarthy’s presence has helped knit Martinez’s Everton together as a unit and it is no surprise the Catalan boss – who knows the player and his skill-set inside out – was so desperate to get him on board.
In keeping with his manager’s start, McCarthy has settled in immediately at the Merseyside outfit. Fellaini has barely been missed and the Irish international is already proving to be a much more accomplished central midfielder in almost every facet.
Perhaps most importantly for the new regime, he is a far more accomplished with the ball at his feet. He is comfortable taking the ball off Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin in deeper areas, buying a yard and recycling possession. In addition, his ability to pop the ball off with a solitary touch is a wonderful trait and one that injects a positive, purposeful tempo into Everton’s play. It is no surprise that McCarthy averages over 50 passes per game in the Premier League with a mean success rate of 86%.