Midfield constants as important as ever

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images Amid a season full of injuries for Everton, Gareth Barry, center, and James McCarthy, right, have been rocks in the Toffees' midfield.

Injuries are becoming the buzzword around Goodison Park in recent weeks, with players dropping like those proverbial flies. Fortunately for Everton, there are two constants who remain while the numbers dwindle around them: Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

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Faced with various, ever-changing combinations, both behind, alongside and ahead of them, the duo acquired in the summer are, arguably, the brightest lights within this new-look Everton side.

Though Phil Jagielka is the man with the armband, Barry often appears as the on-pitch commander, adding much-needed experience and leadership to a side noticeably short of both in his absence.

Combine this with the ability of the player and his impact is clear. There is the insurance offered by his presence in front of the back four, the underrated passing range, and an assured reading of the game and the endless possible incidents within it.

The most prominent example arrived on his debut, as Barry hurtled towards his own goal to rectify a Tim Howard error and deny Chelsea a certain goal, and this signalled the start of a successful quest to win over any sceptics.

When the season draws to a close, the first port of call must be the permanent signing of this experienced free agent. Winning over the doubters, Barry is a model of consistency and composure in the heart of the midfield.

Alongside Barry, helping kick-start much of the eye-catching passing play synonymous with Roberto Martinez's approach to the beautiful game, is the industrious McCarthy.

One of the standout performers in the disappointing defeat at Tottenham on Sunday, McCarthy won eleven tackles -- the best return of the weekend and the third-highest total by a player this season -- and his aggression and tackling are a valuable tool in the engine room.

Nonetheless, despite possessing the composure on the ball to match his all-action style, the best trait within the McCarthy armoury is the ceaseless work ethic of player displaying exemplary fitness levels. One prominent example, which led to the winning goal at Swansea earlier in the season, best highlights this.

Entering the final ten minutes, with many around him tiring and appearing short on ideas, the former Wigan man seized on a loose ball in the middle of the park and galloped into the Swansea half.

Eventually halted, having covered most of the pitch and run past several opposing players, McCarthy saw his burst forward ended on the edge of the penalty area. Ross Barkley stepped up to score the free kick, securing the three points and grabbing the headlines, but it was the contribution of his team-mate in the build-up that sticks in the mind.

Continuing onwards without key players in attack, with Lacina Traore set for a debut from the bench against Crystal Palace on Wednesday, and with defenders also injured or recovering from injury, the form and fitness of this central midfield pairing is paramount.

Everton will rely on the duo for the necessary attacking platform, with Palace expected to offer a test similar to that of the Stoke side moulded under the guidance of their current manager Tony Pulis, while shielding the defence behind him.

However, regardless of the outcome of this midweek fixture and the remaining matches this season, when the season draws to a close, these two are sure to be among the names considered for the club's player of the year award. On current form, it would be a title befitting either player with both easily silencing the critics that accompanied their respective arrivals on Merseyside.

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