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Player Focus: Is James McCarthy Now Everton's Most Valuable Player?

04/12/2014 20:54 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT

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Last summer, Everton hired Roberto Martínez as David Moyes' replacement. As with any manager switching teams, the Spaniard took a number of his former players with him to Goodison Park. Arouna Koné departed the DW Stadium for Goodison, Joel Robles also followed Martínez to Merseyside, while Antolín Alcaraz swelled Everton's defensive ranks, signing on a free after his Wigan contract expired.

However, perhaps Martínez's best acquisition of all was to convince James McCarthy to join him in his new surroundings. A number of the Premier League's big hitters showed an interest in the combative midfielder following Wigan's relegation, but McCarthy opted for Everton, signing on deadline day last summer for £13million, making him the second most expensive purchase in their history at the time, behind Marouane Fellaini.

Instantaneously, McCarthy and fellow deadline day arrival Gareth Barry formed an effective midfield partnership, helping Everton attain a club record 72 points in the Premier League last season. A fifth-placed finish guaranteed a spot in Europa League and the chance for the Republic of Ireland international to test himself in European competition.

Unfortunately, however, during Everton's recent 2-0 win over Wolfsburg McCarthy was withdrawn on the half hour mark with a hamstring problem. The Toffees were hugely impressive in the victory, but the win came at a cost. McCarthy missed the subsequent league meeting with Tottenham, an encounter Everton fell to a 2-1 defeat in. Granted, the Merseysiders had failed to win any of their previous 4 league trips to White Hart Lane, but the 24-year-old's availability would have given Everton a better chance of securing all 3 points in Sunday's afternoon kick off.

While Muhamed Besic impressed in parts in midfield (WhoScored rating 7.46), Barry was hugely ineffective in the middle of the park. The 33-year-old's WhoScored rating (5.72) was the worst of all players and his lowest in a Premier League match since signing for Everton last summer. Barry was caught in possession in the build up for Roberto Soldado's goal, an uncharacteristic error by a player who usually excels on the ball.

It's the energy, though, that McCarthy brings to the team that was missed at White Hart Lane. Besic is not a poor stand in, but his inexperience in the Premier League and in the current Everton starting XI was telling in the loss. Both McCarthy and Barry compliment one another superbly, a partnership which the latter and Besic are yet to establish.

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The Irishman shields the defence with aplomb and his awareness is one of his greatest assets. This, in turn, allows Barry to have more time on the ball to help the transition from defence to attack. It's no coincidence that Barry is attempting more passes per game (71.4) than any other Everton player in the Premier League this season.

Besic, however, carries a similar threat to Barry, whilst often looking to press forward and support the attack. This left gaps in front of the back four, which were exploited by Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane. Besic may not shirk from the physical side of the game - he is averaging 1.1 tackles and 1.4 fouls per league match - but McCarthy performs this shielding role to a much higher standard than the Bosnian.

McCarthy's positional sense allows for his teammates to attack, safe in the knowledge that he is protecting the defence. His pace means he can cover ground at speed, helping limit the chances of Everton's backline being breached should the Toffees be hit on the counter attack.

The midfielder is averaging more tackles per game (2.7) than any other Everton player in the Premier League this season. Meanwhile, of all Toffees' stars to register at least 250 minutes of league action this term, no player is averaging more interceptions per game than McCarthy (1.7).

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The lack of defensive discipline shown by Everton's midfield axis without McCarthy against Spurs was telling, particularly once Kevin Mirallas put the visitors 1-0 up. Eriksen and Kane were able to find ample space between the lines and it's no wonder both were heavily involved in Spurs' first goal. "I don't think he (McCarthy) will be able to make tomorrow, he won't be ready for that," Martínez explained on Tuesday. Against an out of sorts Hull on Wednesday night, McCarthy's absence may not be as sorely felt.

It's vital, though, that McCarthy is available for the weekend meeting with Manchester City. Spurs, a side who had lost two of their six home league games this season prior to Sunday's win, were able to capitalise on his unavailability at the weekend. A team of City's ilk would likely be able to exploit the midfielder's absence to even greater effect than Spurs, so Everton will need a fully fit McCarthy for the trip to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The former Wigan star has emerged as one of Everton's most important players since joining last September. His injury was felt on Sunday and the Toffees need McCarthy fighting fit sooner rather than later if they are to mount a serious challenge for a top four finish.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com