In the aftermath of Marouane Fellaini’s season-ending ankle injury and Tim Cahill’s calf strain which threatens to rule him out of Saturday’s clash with Manchester United, it would be easy for Evertonians to despair over the state of their midfield following the loss of two of the team’s most influential players. Before the wailing begins, a quick look at the teamsheet should provide solace, for there is one man still present in the midfield whose recent performances have been excellent but sadly under-appreciated.
Leon Osman’s last two outings in the famous royal blue have been amongst the finest individual performances seen at Goodison Park this season, and they have come in consecutive 2-1 victories over Chelsea and Sporting Lisbon respectively. The first of those wins, against Carlo Ancelotti’s league leaders, was greeted with praise being poured on the team as a whole and rightly so, but Osman was one of the game’s outstanding contributors, and while the midweek defeat of Sporting was a less memorable occasion, Osman again stood head and shoulders above his teammates, with only Leighton Baines matching the No. 21’s efforts. Prior to taking a centre-midfield berth over recent weeks, Osman at times struggled to find a home on the pitch, playing on both flanks more often than in the central role he holds now, far and away his favoured position. Much in the same way Mikel Arteta was consigned to the wings before being entrusted with a place in the heart of midfield, Osman’s recent showings have exuded the discipline needed to survive in the most competitive area of the field. Arteta, upon his arrival in England, instantly displayed bundles of technique but lacked the responsibility to control Everton’s tempo and offered zero protection to his defence. Osman suffered from similar traits, too often strolling towards his own goal as the opposition hared past him but now both the Spanish wizard and Everton’s home grown version do their fair share of legwork before springing forward to attack.
While Osman understandably leaves most of the dirty work to whoever is sitting in front of the back four – usually Fellaini but Jack Rodwell could be given that job from now on after recovering from injury himself – the 28-year-old provides Everton’s back-line with cover in his own unique way. Possessing arguably the quickest feet at Goodison, Osman’s capacity to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs greatly eases the pressure on Sylvain Distin and company. With the low centre of gravity provided by standing 5’8”, Osman regularly escapes the midfield slugfest with the ball by skipping away from onrushing defenders intent on halting his progress. His lack of size should not fool anyone, however, as Osman can scrap with the best of them. He scores an inordinate amount of headers for one his height, and does not even boast the leaping ability Cahill uses to such great effect. Rather, Osman’s headed goals come as a result of his superb positioning and no little bravery. Nevertheless, most of the damage is done with his feet, including a stunning effort against Stoke City earlier this season from 25 yards with his weaker left foot. Goals have come regularly for Osman during his Everton career, including netting after 90 seconds of his first Premier League start in 2004 and a sensational mazy dribble past numerous Sunderland players to cap Everton’s 7-1 trouncing of the Black Cats in November 2007. Osman, a striker in his youth team days, has 202 appearances for the Toffees and 29 goals, striking roughly once every seven games and often in breathtaking fashion.
Osman’s recent exhibitions are what modern midfielders are all about – excellent close control, intelligent use of the ball and the stamina to break up the pitch to support attacks after helping snuff out the opposition’s own forays. Away from the pitch, he is a key part of the harmonious atmosphere at Everton’s Finch Farm training ground, the likeable Billinge-born midfielder often raising laughs with his mischievous nature. One of Everton’s longest-serving players, having been at the club since 1997, and as professional off the field as he is on it, it was no surprise when Osman was named Everton captain for a number of games earlier this season in the absence of Phil Neville. Osman will need to keep to his current standard when Manchester United visit on Saturday, when even without the armband a captain’s performance will be required to maintain Everton’s great form.
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