By Football Fact Man
Watching the 3-0 drubbing Everton took at Anfield last season, it seemed the Baines-Pienaar axis was becoming so influential that it was somehow detrimental to the whole attacking balance of the side. They were the only outlet in that game, but they continually over-egged the pudding, adding in one too many passes or flicks which caused moves to break down.
Towards the end of the season Baines got injured, meaning Distin moved out to left-back for 5 games. Everton went out and scored 13 goals in those games and kept 3 clean sheets, taking 9 points. Over the course of last season, Everton’s win % was better when Baines didn’t play.
Obviously there’s lots of variables in there –the quality of opposition, home advantage, who else was in the side on certain days. To try and counter this, the data since 2008 (when both Baines and Pienaar came to the side) was pulled up.
The sample spans 240 games over the last 5 seasons:
As you can see there’s very little difference when one or the other isn’t playing. Everton’s win % actually rises slightly when they don’t play together. Baines has an individual win % of 41 for Everton when he starts. Pienaar’s individual win % is 44.
Baines managed only 2 assists in the Premier League last year despite creating 67 chances (key passes). He made 27 assists in the previous 3 seasons. This could be attributed to Tim Cahill’s waning influence, but Everton have only had two players break 10 league goals a season in the last 5 years. Baines still hasn’t assisted a Jelavic goal yet either.
Much is being made in football analytics at present about the inefficiency of the cross. The below graphic illustrates the typical positions Baines picked people out from last season:
On the face of it, most of the positions where the attacker meets the ball look good – around the penalty spot and in the six yard box. And they would be if the ball was delivered on the deck from a shorter pass at slower pace – therefore being easier to deal with. But they aren’t, and Baines found no success in these games.
Perhaps the biggest factor of all was how Everton held shape and position more rather than keep up their pressing game throughout as EB noted last week. Despite the team as a whole being deeper, Baines was further up the pitch than ever last season, to the point where his average position was 10-15 yards inside the opposition half. Here’s the graphics from the same Norwich and Bolton games above:
Compare these to the two examples below from the previous season where Baines got assists against Sunderland and Fulham:
The positions look much more conservative – narrower and nearer the halfway line. Despite a season of being in these more conservative positions, Baines made 11 assists, swinging in over a 100 more crosses. In both the last two seasons his accuracy in picking someone out was 28% so his quality remained the same.
The data suggests that when Baines has been the major attacking outlet rather than the midfielders and forwards, his own effectiveness has been restricted. The United game this week saw Baines back around the half-way line while Pienaar buzzed around Fellaini. Often it was Baines accuracy into Fellaini from these deeper positions that caused United so many problems.
The acquisitions of Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith may break up the Baines-Pienaar axis more often, or indeed provide a greater balance between attacking down left and right. This should see Baines in a more orthodox full-back position. Time will tell if this helps Baines rediscover his knack for supplying well crafted goals. Having to do it all by himself last season didn’t really work for anyone.