When it comes to both key passes and assists, Leighton Baines was main man again for Everton last season.
There isn’t another full back in the big leagues who comes close to being the main man for his team on these measures year in, year out like Leighton is.
In the 7 Premier League games he was unavailable last season, Everton drew a blank 5 times. But…
“Baines has had a quiet season…”
My arl fella has said it, the forums have said it, and even the uber-positive Roberto Martinez intimated it when he recently mourned Baines’ lack of link-up with the injured Steven Pienaar.
In the literal sense, Baines did become less involved in games:
Firstly, Seamus Coleman didn’t see a drop in his touch numbers like Baines did. And as the season wore on, while Baines was receiving less ball, he was receiving it (on average) the same distance into the opposition half as he always was.
Secondly, have a look at this expected goals against chart:
Everton were letting up fewest chances during autumn and the run up to Christmas when Sylvain Distin had his most regular stint in the side. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, it also coincided with the team conceding near enough every time the opposition got forward to get a shot on target. Distin was making ricks when it mattered and he got the chop after Boxing Day. But as we can see, Everton started letting up more chances again when Disty got binned.
No Distin also impacted Everton’s distribution from the back because Phil Jagielka moved to the left side of defence for the rest of the season. And this is a big reason why Baines became less involved.
Firstly, Distin and Jagielka took up different positions to receive the ball. Distin often took up left-back positions and was often advanced well beyond the edge of the box:
Here’s the tape of what it looks like for real – Distin high or wide, Jagielka deep and narrow. Obviously this effects Baines’ positioning. You’ll see Baines pop up at the bottom left of the vid with Distin clips, and at the bottom right in Jagielka clips:
The knock on effect is seen in both centre backs’ passing. Again despite that smaller chunk of playing time, Distin gets the ball wide left in the opposition half much more successfully than Jagielka:
Call me cynical but for me, it’s more likely a mix of the first two reasons. The changing dynamic was more a result of Distin and Jagielka’s differing styles, footedness and physical attributes than anyone following strict orders from the manager.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere about scouting players in isolation, but that’s a whole different discussion.
Follow me on Twitter @footballfactman