On Saturday, Everton fielded six players aged 21 or under, and this steady stream of young talent being given opportunities to play is testament to what Roberto Martinez is hoping to achieve at Everton.
Mixed into them were the extremely experienced heads to guide the youngsters through, but once again, the kids took the plaudits, with Stones and Barkley once again highlighted.
But I’d like to take a look at a few players who have received criticism over the past year or so, and highlight their involvement in a good team performance which should have resulted in Everton coming away with all three points.
Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka and Gareth Barry have all had their critics in the past year, but all three are demonstrating their value to the team this campaign.
Howard is a player who many of the fans don’t trust – someone who has made so many blunders over the past 12 months, but is also someone who helps to organise the defence, and can produce some wonderful saves. Everton are yet to concede away from home this season, and whether you account that to the imperious centre backs in front of him, or Howard himself (who had an exceptional performance against Tottenham at White Hart Lane last month), you cannot fail to note his contributions. Long term, we do need a new number one, however, in the short term, Howard can help guide and orchestrate the defence in front of him, and the young defenders can learn a lot from him.
Phil Jagielka has been exceptional for Everton since a wobbly return to the club after the World Cup last summer. He played a crucial part in Everton’s return to form towards the back end of last season, and has begun this campaign impressively. His influence on John Stones, as well as Brendan Galloway on the other side of him, is one of the reasons for the development of these players, and his personal form hasn’t suffered at all, with him putting in yet another outstanding display at the weekend. While Stones takes the plaudits, Jagielka continues to shine.
And Gareth Barry, one of the most lamented during Everton’s poor season last term, appears to have risen to his finest form once again. The snidey ball winner is always available and in space when Stones looks to carry the ball out, and is always an outlet. His passing going forward has been very good, and in each game this season he has led the distance run for his team. He is a leader within this side, and sets an example for others to follow.
We may have an array of youth players coming through, but as we have seen with other sides, these players cannot perform well unless they have players around them who have seen it, and done it before. These older players are just as crucial to Everton now as the younger players who are developing. Martinez seems to have found the right blend between youth and experience, and I am optimistic of having an excellent season, this term.