Others must step up in Barkley's absence

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Kevin MirallasPA PhotosEverton's Kevin Mirallas scores his side's second goal.

Everton continued to keep pace with the Champions League chasers thanks to a well-earned victory against Norwich on Saturday -- although a weekend when all of those above and below secured three points was far from ideal -- but the biggest obstacle at present is a lack of fit players.

The injuries are currently stacking up in tandem with the points; when one goes up, the other seems to follow. The loss of Antolin Alcaraz tempered the quick recovery of Phil Jagielka, while an injury to Ross Barkley overshadowed the permanent arrival of Aiden McGeady from Spartak Moscow.

McGeady is a player bound to excite the Goodison faithful. First and foremost, though, fitness is the order of the day. The former Celtic winger last played competitively in November, and spent the past month off.

- Barkley out for at least three weeks

Fortunately, with Sylvain Distin closing on a return to action, the Blues are well equipped to cope without Alcaraz. It is in midfield where the problems begin, as Barkley joins Darron Gibson and Gerard Deulofeu on the sidelines.

Barkley missed the win over Norwich through injury, which Roberto Martinez confirmed afterwards as a fractured toe; the World Cup hopeful could be out of action for between three to six weeks.

In the midst of his overdue breakthrough season, it is testament to the form shown thus far by Barkley that this injury is such a blow. Compounding matters is the realisation that the player will miss the forthcoming Merseyside derby later this month.

Without their fearless prospect, Everton lack a driving presence in the middle of the park, someone who is willing to take risks and drive at opposing defences, whilst attempting the unexpected and the unpredictable.

Ever the eternal optimist, though, in spite of the dwindling numbers, Martinez is liable to view the loss of Barkley as an opportunity for others to make their mark. This is an undoubtedly rosy outlook, yet there is an arguable case for this train of thought.

Bryan Oviedo competently plugged the gap when injury deprived the Everton of the services of Leighton Baines. Likewise, John Stones and the aforementioned Alcaraz ensured life without the injured Jagielka and Distin was manageable.

Therefore, with Barkley absent, the remaining creative players must up their game, especially the experienced squad members. Leon Osman filled the position on Saturday, but he has impressed more as a substitute this season.

Osman has excelled against tiring defences in the latter stages of matches; Everton require a sustained impact from their diminutive midfielder. Whereas Barkley constantly attempts to influence proceedings, Osman often lingers on the periphery.

Whether Osman is the answer or not remains open to debate. There is, however, little doubt that Kevin Mirallas has to share the burden. Luckily, there were promising signs on Saturday - it was one of the better offerings from the Belgian this season.

Despite topping the creativity charts - no Everton players has created more chances (41) or provided more assists (five) this season - Mirallas has struggled for consistency. In truth, this struggle has underpinned his time on Merseyside.

Nonetheless, Mirallas remains a threat in possession, which is why the Barkley injury may signal a window of opportunity. Boasting similar attributes with the ball at his feet, there is a valid argument for accommodating Mirallas in a central role in the immediate future.

Though armed with a squad depleted by injury, Martinez could still facilitate the switch. Oviedo has featured in midfield before now; the Costa Rican could occupy one of the flanks, thereby allowing the Everton number 11 to move infield.

Very much a confidence player, with more than a dash of cockiness accompanying his goal celebrations, the chance to take up the creative mantle may be the catalyst that finally transforms Mirallas from supporting act to top of the bill.

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