Ahead of Everton’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea on Sunday, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov this week called for the Toffees to play “intelligent
When Bilyaletdinov did step off the substitutes’ bench in the 68th minute of Everton’s weekend game with West Ham United, there had not been much to count as intelligent or aggressive about the Blues’ play. Unthinking and anxious would be closer to the mark, but the 25-year-old did not seem affected by the malaise dragging down his teammates. Replacing Victor Anichebe in a tactical change by Moyes, Bilyaletdinov was the first Everton player aside from Marouane Fellaini to play with a measure of thought and urgency in his game. That is not to say Bilyaletdinov was the reason Everton hauled themselves back into the game – Moyes’ decision to push Fellaini into attack did that – but the performance of the No. 7 was a rare highlight on a bad day for the Blues.
It was not only the equalising goal Bilyaletdinov lashed home from the edge of the box that made the midfielder stand out. Indeed, Bilyaletdinov’s introduction brought Everton a composure they had sorely lacked from everyone but the giant Belgian who later joined Bilyaletdinov on the score sheet. Composure is perhaps Bilyaletdinov’s most abundant quality, maybe even too much as the hectic pace of the Premier League can pass him by. But when Mikel Arteta is struggling for confidence and form as he is now, having Bilyaletdinov’s cool mind on the field to help keep possession and use it well helps pick up the slack left by the stuttering Spaniard. A lack of regular football has hampered Bilyaletdinov – making only 25 starts last season, and five this term – but there have been enough flashes to suggest the Moscow native has an important contribution to make.
Goals have come at regular intervals in Bilyaletdinov’s Everton career, notching seven in his debut campaign, including important strikes at home to Manchester United and away at AEK Athens. They have come from wide in midfield, either on the left or the right, and the latter position is the one he may be asked to fill after the departure of Steven Pienaar. But given his eye for goal and Everton’s lack of successful options in attack a more central, forward role could solve Bilyaletdinov’s own problem establishing himself in the squad and Everton’s problem of finding the net on a consistent basis. He is quick but not lightning, preferring speed of thought to speed of foot, and a central berth – where he would be in regular shooting distance of the opposition goal – could exploit his talents more effectively than a continued wide posting. He may not start against Chelsea, but the chance to cement a place in Everton’s starting XI and take up the mantle left by Pienaar is approaching.