Without the talents of Arteta and Fellaini, Osman has risen to prominence, grabbing Everton by the scruff of the neck and almost single-handedly dragging them to three points against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Even with some decent performances from his teammates – Magaye Gueye and Leighton Baines on the left and substitute Seamus Coleman on the right – Osman was the conductor; the hub of all Everton’s best attacking play. Jack Rodwell and Phil Neville were solid, and Rodwell showed some attacking intent on his return to the side after injury, but it was Osman who stood out, particularly his numerous interplays with Baines as Everton swept forward and sealed a victory that kept them on Liverpool’s coattails. The goal the midfielder bagged was perhaps the most instantly-spectacular example of his good work against Blackburn, but his all-round performance was even more impressive.
Osman’s rich vein of form comes just over a year after he dictated the play against a string of high-calibre opponents, starring in consecutive victories against Chelsea, Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United. Playing slightly deeper than his role supporting Jermaine Beckford, Osman guided Everton to triumphs of 2-1, 2-1 and 3-1 respectively in mid-February 2010. In each he was the standout performer, just as he has been through much Everton’s streak of seven Premier League games unbeaten. Everton have scored 14 goals in that time, three of which Osman has netted himself; he has also directly assisted three more, meaning nearly half of Everton’s tally in that time has come via the 29-year-old – a startling contribution. With the cavalry returning for Moyes – Rodwell and Coleman were fit enough for the bench against Rovers while Arteta and Tim Cahill are not far behind – the question is no longer can Everton cope without them; instead, it is can Everton cope without Osman?
Barring injury Osman will start next weekend against Manchester United, the toughest test Everton have faced since their current run began against Sunderland in late February. It is also the toughest test of Osman’s current run, but against a midfield that looked fragile at Wembley in defeat to Manchester City, and will contain the out-of-sorts Michael Carrick and lack Paul Scholes and possibly Darren Fletcher, Osman may have room to shine once more. It is 14 months since Everton last beat United, and eight months since September’s dramatic 3-3 at Goodison Park, and if Everton are to add a third memorable match with the title-chasers to that list, Osman will have to be at his magnificent best once again.