Club Focus – Everton – Baines takes centre stage after years of overlooked excellence

Plaudits for Everton’s hard-earned draw with Chelsea on Saturday can be handed out in many different directions. David Moyes and his staff deserve a share for putting the Toffees’ players’ minds right after a bitter defeat a week ago. The players themselves take credit, particularly the excellent Sylvain Distin, for such a dramatic improvement within seven days, while Jermaine Beckford deserves praise for grabbing the important equalising goal. The man who supplied the cross, Leighton Baines, warrants acclaim not just for his assist at Stamford Bridge, but his superb performances since coming to Goodison Park.

The former Wigan Athletic full-back has quietly but effectively rampaged up and down Everton’s left flank since 2007, when he returned to his native Liverpool for a £6m fee. Baines joined an Everton with Joleon Lescott dragooned into service at left-back, and while Lescott offered plenty of endeavour in an unfamiliar position, when Baines was given his chance – after Lescott returned to centre-back to replace the injured Joseph Yobo – the virtue of having a natural fit in that position soon became obvious. Baines’ attacking was – and still is – instinctive, and his delivery unfailingly excellent. And with the stamina to play a full role at both ends of the pitch, the 25-year-old has been both Everton’s most consistent defensive presence and most dangerous attacking threat.

Baines’ menace is not only down to his crossing ability, although as Chelsea can attest it is a potent weapon. Instead, Baines is at his most effective when linking with Steven Pienaar – the two have developed what looks at times to be an almost telepathic understanding in the three-and-a-half years they have been teammates. The Scouser and the South African dovetail perfectly, Pienaar forever eager to cut inside from the left touchline on to his right foot, Baines always willing to provide width with a late run from deep. The list of opposing right-backs who have been left scrambling as Pienaar steps inside and lays the ball off to a thundering Baines is as long as the Premier League table – longer, in fact, since Chelsea used two right-backs on Saturday when Carlo Ancelotti judged Jose Bosingwa unable to cope. Paulo Ferreira fared little better.

A nuisance from set pieces too, Baines’ corner and free kick delivery is amongst the best at Everton. Mikel Arteta, the Everton vice-captain, usually has first refusal from dead balls despite little success this season, compared to Baines who scored a memorable effort against Tottenham Hotspur in another capital draw and has delivered a series of excellent corners while Arteta has struggled to beat the first man. With the Spaniard suspended Baines could establish himself as the Blues’ set piece king, and Baines’ influence at Goodison has slowly grown in every season. He has missed just two league games this term and only one last, an important record of consistency since Everton’s squad contains no other senior, natural left-backs, a testament to Baines’ reliability – and Everton’s reliance on him.

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