Ranking Everton's 5 Best Players This Season so Far
Everton have enjoyed an impressive transition into the Roberto Martinez era.
The Toffees have lost just one of 12 Premier League games and have amassed 21 points—a total bettered just once in their past 29 seasons.
Despite the obvious progress on the pitch, there's still a sense of what might have been. Too many draws have prevented a good start from becoming great, and there are still improvements to make in approach.
Martinez has been quick to give his squad a new image, with several summer signings playing prominent roles already. But which players have shone brightest over the first third of the season?
This is not ranking ability, but merely looking at the biggest contributions throughout the first chunk of the season.
James McCarthy narrowly edges out Phil Jagielka into the final spot.
There's no obvious fact with which to champion the Irishman's selection, but his inclusion in the side has quickened Everton's conversion to a passing, possession-absorbing approach.
He helps enforce a swifter tempo with fewer touches and more imaginative passes, and he's pugnacious enough to marshal opposing attackers off the ball.
Martinez wants his side to control games, but he started off with a midfield tandem of Leon Osman and Marouane Fellaini who struggled to achieve this. The pace was slow, making attacks far too predicable, and it wasn't surprising to see the Toffees draw their opening three fixtures—all of which could have been won.
McCarthy's arrival has coincided with greater strides being taken toward his manager's desired end product.
He has been quietly efficient without ever grabbing the headlines, but he was perhaps most prominent during the recent Merseyside derby in which he commanded midfield.
Tim Howard has produced some of his best form in Everton colours.
The Toffees' defence has managed six clean sheets in 12 games this season, without ever looking completely cohesive—a measure of the American's form.
Howard's had more work than in recent years, facing six shots on target in four games so far, a total experienced just four times in all of last season.
He's regularly bailed out his defence and is currently on course to produce Everton's best ratio of clean sheets in Premier League history.
In terms of consistency, Ross Barkley's performance levels have fluctuated, as with any young player; however, when he's on song, he's made a significant impact.
He burst onto the scene with an eye-catching game against Norwich and provided Everton with a new dimension in attack.
His direct running is a handful for any defence, especially in broken play, while his touch, passing and vision are already polished aspects of his game.
He's inspired the Toffees in several big games already, and Martinez looks to have a real diamond on his hands.
The top two places were far closer than some might imagine, but it's Gareth Barry who comes second.
For everything James McCarthy's added in midfield, the former England man has taken it a step further—as might be expected of a seasoned veteran.
Barry's seamlessly slotted into Martinez's system and is already Everton's chief orchestrator and director of traffic. He moves his new side up and down the field, regularly racking up considerably more passes than any of his teammates.
Off the ball, his positioning is exceptional, masking his lack of pace, and his partnership with McCarthy has dramatically boosted the Toffees' approach.
Without Barry, Everton haven't won this season and have three points from a possible 12; yet they are unbeaten with him in the side, collecting 18 points from a possible 24.
The 32-year-old already seems like an essential transfer target come summer.
Finally, Romelu Lukaku has made the biggest impact on Everton's season so far, scoring seven goals in eight games.
He's given the Toffees a goal threat that's been craved for a number of seasons, allowing them to win without reaching top level.
Even when his performance stutters, he's capable of exploding into life and deciding games, as was the case in the Merseyside derby.
Everton would already be six points worse off without his goals, which will prove the difference between a European challenge and mid-table mediocrity.
Statistics via Who Scored?