Stats Zone Premier League Full-Back of the Year 2014/15
Everton haven’t had a good campaign. Roberto Martinez’s second season has required the rebuilding of an ageing defence while enduring an extra 10 games in the Europa League. Rarely out of the bottom half since November, they’ve accrued their lowest points total since 2004’s 17th-placed finish (47).
None of this is the fault of Leighton Baines. The very Mod model of a modern creative full-back, he created a startling 70 chances this season; among his full-back contemporaries, only Kieran Trippier (65) came close, with the third-highest chance creation coming from Branislav Ivanovic way back on 36.
All teams crave reliable creativity, and twice per game Baines will serve up a potential goal. True, on 61 occasions he turned away in frustration as the chance went begging, but his 9 assists were easily the most by any full-back this season (nearest challenger was Daryl Janmaat with 6). Intriguingly, it’s also almost twice as many as the 5 he recorded in 2012/13, when he was also the Stats Zone Full-Back of the Year – from an astonishing 116 chances created.
This season’s higher conversion rate might make Toffees' fans wonder how bad this campaign might have got (or conversely how good 2013 might have been with more goal threat) but, as noted, Baines has been busy in defence, where Everton haven’t been leakier since 2004 (50 goals conceded).
The Scouser contributed 53 tackles (winning 89% of them) and 45 interceptions, blocking 7 shots and making 88 clearances (43 with his head – not bad for a fella of 5ft 7in).
Baines created a whopping 6 chances vs Villa in October; against Newcastle he demonstrated his defensive acumen too, putting in 6 tackles and carving out half as many opportunities
But for all his defensive solidity, the abiding image of Baines will be flying forward with the ball at his feet, Mod hairdo fluttering in the wind as he looks up and seeks a team-mate.
Averaging almost 50 passes a game with an 84% completion rate, he’s pretty much always an option – and even when he’s not directly involved in goals, his presence as a tireless overlapper gives Everton width on the left and allows his colleagues to cut inside and overload – much as Seamus Coleman did on the other side en route to being named the 2013/14 Stats Zone Full-Back of the Year.
Perhaps his passing will help him extend his career for a good while yet. He turned 30 in December, but by that time Martinez had already flown him to Munich to watch Philipp Lahm, another expert full-back who adapted his game to a central role and can now look forward to growing old gracefully at the heart of his team’s operations. The only problem with that is: where will Everton find a left-back even half as good?
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