Ross Barkley’s injury has got to be seen as a major set back for Everton. After a fantastic breakthrough season at Everton, Barkley went on to appear in each of England’s World Cup games. On the eve of the new season Everton fans were hit with the news that Barkley was set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with knee ligament damage.
Though Everton do have cover, most likely in the form of Steven Naismith, he does not offer anywhere near the same threat as Barkley. Without Barkley in the side, Everton lack players with the ability to drive forwards with the ball and create space. Not to forget Barkley’s lethal scoring ability with both feet and his huge range of passing.
Naismith is a different package altogether. He offers a lot less in build up play than Barkley, with a touch and passing ability that simply does not compare. However, Roberto Martinez has shown faith in Naismith, picking him a lot less season in Everton’s crunch matches at the back end of the season and reaping the rewards with 5 Premier League goals, 2 coming in wins over Chelsea and Arsenal (Everton’s next 2 games).
Despite Naismith’s record last season, and his goal at Leicester last week, Everton would be a lot stronger with Barkley in his position and Naismith pushed out onto the left. The fact of the matter is that without Barkley, Everton lack that fear factor and opponents will feel that they can beat Everton.
Everton need to find a short-term replacement for Barkley, with a Europa League campaign on the horizon squad depth could become an issue. Morgan Amalfitano has been linked but I would not be surprised to see Roberto Martinez delve back into the loan market on this one.
With a sufficient replacement Everton should be able to cope for a short period of time. However, as time passes Everton will come unstuck without one of their flair players unless Roberto Martinez can find a system that works without one of his key men. This could prove to be the 4-3-3 system employed in last season’s 3-0 demolition of Arsenal with Lukaku cutting in from the right well Naismith was the centerpiece of Everton’s attack. This would also cut out the central attacking midfielder (Barkley) and allow Everton to play 3 central midfielders, an area where they are strong.
Whether Martinez can strengthen or find a way for a new system to work remains to be seen. The one thing for sure is that Everton are highly unlikely to be as threatening without Barkley. With Barkley set to miss huge games against Arsenal (h), Chelsea (h) and Liverpool (a), Everton could find themselves lagging behind their fellow Champions League hopefuls when their talisman returns.