In English football’s long history, only two teams have completed a top-flight season unbeaten. They have been given the same nickname: “The Invincibles”.
Undefeated records have that impact. And while the Preston side of 1888/89 and the Arsenal team of 2003/04 do not have company yet, the Premier League’s modern-day Invincible aims to extend his personal run today.
The bare facts are that Everton have lost a solitary league game this season. Gareth Barry, who was borrowed from Manchester City, is ineligible to face his parent club and missed that match. His 11 outings have produced 25 points: seven wins, four draws and no defeats.
Yet there is something significant in the identity of today’s visitors to Goodison Park: Fulham overcame Everton in the League Cup in September, the only setback Barry has suffered in the colours of his new club.
But his league record means an unsung hero is finally, in his 33rd year, earning recognition, and not just from a manager who champions his cause relentlessly.
Roberto Martinez believes that perhaps Barry is not exotic enough to excite the English, not dynamic enough to thrill those who love seeing midfielders surge from box to box.
Yet he appreciates the England international for his habit of knitting a team together, for his precise passing and uncanny ability to read the game.
“You always find it difficult to find a No 6, that defensive midfielder, who is tactically aware, in the English game,” he said. “Gareth has developed a continental approach in that role and that’s quite unique.
“If he was a foreigner, then maybe he would be a bit more glamorous for everyone to highlight. Maybe he would be more appreciated.”
The point that Martinez makes is that seemingly slow, holding midfielders do not capture the imagination. Barry gives Everton’s more athletic players a platform to perform, staying deep so the full-backs Bryan Oviedo and Seamus Coleman can surge forward. The English tend to be more accustomed to seeing the men in the middle make the lung-busting breaks.
Speed, however, has never been Barry’s forte. “If you assess every player in the game, you will never find an individual who has got absolutely everything,” Martinez said. “You wouldn’t say that Lionel Messi is great at tackling or tracking back.”
Instead, a manager who emphasises the positive is focusing on what Barry can do and attempting to educate the fans about a very different type of midfielder.
“Historically, we produce very good midfielders, but they’re box to box and play in a different way,” he said. “That’s why I value Gareth so much, because to have an Englishman with the knowledge and football approach of a continental midfielder gives you a real advantage for the other midfielders to learn from.”
Two men at the opposite ends of their careers, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley, are the apprentices to the master. The Ireland international is suspended today, disrupting a midfield axis that proved hugely effective in the win against Manchester United and the draw at Arsenal, and the more seasoned Leon Osman is likely to stand in as Everton look to return to the top four.
And it is not just Barry defending an unbeaten record. Fulham have never won a league game at Goodison Park.
When the London club visits Merseyside, Everton are transformed into Invincibles.
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