The case for James McCarthy

A ‘saga’ that took a year to resolve finally came to an end on Monday afternoon when Manchester United announced the signing of Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton for a fee of £24 million. The French midfielder had attracted the attention of numerous clubs around Europe, including Tottenham Hotspur, but his displays for the South Coast club in recent seasons meant he was only going to move to a club in the Champions League. Soon after Mauricio Pochettino’s move from St Mary’s to White Hart Lane in 2014, it was mooted that Spurs had clinched a double deal involving Schneiderlin and his Southampton teammate Jay Rodriguez. However, the clubs did not agree on a fee and the deal broke down.

Now the deal has been completed, the club – and fans – must look to find a similar player elsewhere, be it in the Premier League or abroad. If the club are looking to replace the outgoing Etienne Capoue, Lewis Holtby and Paulinho – who together collected approximately £20.5million – with a player experienced in the English top flight, Pochettino & Co. should look no further than Everton’s James McCarthy. The Glasgow born, Irish central midfielder signed for the Roberto Martinez’s Toffees in 2013 after impressing at Martinez’s former club Wigan Athletic for four years and has further improved on the defensive aspect of his game at the Merseyside club.

In the same period of time, Spurs have had numerous problems in the defensive midfield position. Scott Parker was brought in by Harry Redknapp in 2011 and was phenomenal in his first season, winning the fans’ player of the year award at White Hart Lane, but was plagued by injury towards the end of the year. This paved the way for all action Brazilian midfielder Sandro to step into midfield alongside new signing Mousa Dembélé, who had been brought in from Fulham to plug the enormous gap left by Luka Modric’s departure to the Spanish capital. The double pivot of Sandro and Dembélé worked perfectly for Tottenham until the former was ruled out for over seven months with a serious knee injury. Etienne Capoue was brought in during the summer of 2013, alongside six others, but an early injury and latter fallings out with Tim Sherwood and Mauricio Pochettino meant the Frenchman only lasted two seasons at Tottenham, leaving for Watford.

McCarthy was a player who was linked to Tottenham during his Wigan days and reports even claim the Irishman was close to signing for Spurs in 2013. The 24 year old is a strong, fierce tackler who has ability to pass the ball well and start attacks. Whoever is brought in to fill the position at Spurs will be required to form a partnership with Nabil Bentaleb, a player who seems irreplaceable at the heart of Spurs’ midfield and has a bright career ahead of him. The 20 year old signed a new five-year deal last week and has the ability to reach the very top of the game.

A McCarthy-Bentaleb partnership would suit a Pochettino system incredibly well, replicating the role played by Victor Wanyama and the aforementioned Schneiderlin at Southampton under Pochettino. McCarthy would sit next to the Algerian and would aim to break up play, feeding the ball to the likes of Bentaleb, Eriksen and Lamela to begin attacks. If Pochettino does opt for a 4-3-3 formation, a trio of McCarthy, Bentaleb and Eriksen could be perfect for the role. Bentaleb’s defensive ability, added to his maturity and excellent passing ability would allow him to play in the deeper role, with Eriksen slightly in front of the two as a creative midfielder who can also fulfil Pochettino’s tactics very well.

However, McCarthy is not the only player to have been linked to White Hart Lane to partner Bentaleb. Christoph Kramer of Bayer Leverkusen and Ignacio Camacho of Malaga have been linked to the club since Pochettino’s appointment.

In comparison to Schneiderlin, Camacho and Kramer, McCarthy has the highest average pass length, showing his ability to begin counter attacks and a good ability to spread the ball effectively. The Irishman also matched all three midfielders with zero defensive errors per game in the 2014/15 season. However, McCarthy completed the fewest tackles and interceptions per game compared to Schneiderlin, Camacho and Kramer – possibly showing a lesser ability to win the ball in that role. This stat is slightly worrying as Everton conceded 50 goals in the 2014/15 season and McCarthy played 28 of the 38 Premier League games, although 12 of the 50 goals conceded were during McCarthy’s absence due to two hamstring injuries.

McCarthy Schneiderlin Camacho Kramer
Average Pass Length 20.07m 18.77m 18.12m 16.43
Tackles Won 1.96 3.04 2.6 2.67
Interceptions 1.68 2.42 2.88 2.4

Average per game in 2014/15

It is evident that a midfielder is needed in Pochettino’s team with only Bentaleb, Dembélé, Ryan Mason, Dele Alli and Tom Carroll in the squad – assuming Benjamin Stambouli leaves this summer. Whilst all those midfielders are talented, none can break up play in the way that is required to reduce the 53 goals conceded by Tottenham last season. Pochettino may see academy product Milos Veljkovic as a ready made player for the role but the Serbian will need to prove his suitability and readiness for the Premier League in pre-season, despite being a very talented player.

If Spurs are looking for cheaper options in defensive midfield, Camacho could be prized away from Malaga for under £10m, whilst Kramer would likely cost upwards of that figure. McCarthy is likely to be the most expensive, but comes with Premier League experience and was also instrumental in Wigan’s FA Cup success in 2013, meaning he may be the go to man if Pochettino is looking for a ready made man to step into his midfield for years to come.