Player Focus: Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines is not your conventional Premier League footballer. He certainly doesn’t fit into the identikit Nando’s scoffing, Chinawhites partying, media savvy wideboy who dominate the landscape of Premier League footballers. Baines is a quiet kid who lets his football do the talking, with one of his few ventures into the media being his fantastic music blog in which he refreshingly reveals his favoured bands as Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and The Coral….with no mention of Phil Collins.

The Left sided marauder was on  the Toffees’ books as a teenager, but eventually joined  Wigan’s school of excellence and made his senior debut at the age of 17 for the Latic’s. After earning rave reviews at the JJB, notably for a delicious 30 yard free kick against Manchester United, he was rewarded with a big money move to L4. Baines has improved season on season, and he finished the last campaign on song, recording nine assists – the highest number for a Premier League defender in the last decade. In this campaign he has already matched that figure and its not surprising when you look at the positions he gets into high up field. The below screenshot is a nice example of the telepathy Baines had with the now departed Pienaar, bombing up the wing in the space created by the South African dragging his marker inside.

Everton’s left side has been our key strength and significant weakness this season. The reasons behind this have been talked about on the blog week in week out, but the below charts get the message across quite succinctly….

*Origin is determined as the source of the goal, so for instance Beckford’s goal v Blackpool was from a left wing cross so would be classed as left. Sturridge’s goal for Bolton was from an up and under from the centre circle so will be classed as Central.

Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra have been the benchmark left backs in the Premier League for several years now, and below is a snapshot analysis of their statistics this season in comparison to Leighton Baines. There is also a short analysis on the key findings broken down into crossing accuracy, tackling and passing.

Crossing Accuracy

Baines wide delivery has been superb this campaign, with seven of the nine assists coming from crosses, 4 of which where despatched by the head of expert aerial exponent Tim Cahill. Indeed, the Baines/Cahill partnership has directly combined to produce 13 goals in the last 2 ½ seasons for the Blues. His range of delivery means he is just as adept at drilling crosses from the touchline for someone to run onto like Saha, or high curling deliveries 40 yards from goal onto the head of Cahill. There is clearly a greater emphasis on Everton getting the ball into the box to play to our strengths, highlighted by the below chalkboard where Baines whips deliveries into the 18 yard box with great regularity as opposed to Cole (8 v 1 Baines advantage) and Evra (8 v 3 Baines advantage)

Baines v Cole/Evra this season Passing Chalkboards….


Baines tackling completion this campaign stands at 71%, which is a 6 % improvement on his figures last term, although still behind Evra, who steams in at 77% completion. Baines has been amongst Everton’s top 3 tacklers for most of the campaign, with only Seamus Coleman and Marouanne Fellaini currently boasting a better completion rating.

Baines tackling in away games at Fulham & Villa, winning 6 of his 7 tackles in both matches – Successful tackles in blue, unsuccessful in red


In terms of passing, Baines is lagging behind Cole who boasts an impressive 88% pass completion. At 74% completion Baines passing is decent for Everton, with our average pass completion per game this season just under 75% with our opponent’s average 69%. To put that into context, Iniesta from Barca’s pass completion is 89% with the La Liga average around the 82% marker for this season.

In terms of creative passing, Baines creates an opportunity for an opponent 1.7 times per game. This is a 0.6 improvement on his rate from the season we reached the Cup Final in 2008/9. This figure is also considerably better than Cole who averages a key pass 1.0 per game and Evra 0.9 per game. In fairness to Cole and Evra, Baines is arguably our key creative force this campaign with Pienaar gone and Arteta out of sorts, so our tactics are often manipulated to get Baines into opportunities higher upfield, whilst United & Chelsea have more players capable of a creative spark in their ranks.

Sunderland 2-2 Everton


Everton somewhat surprisingly kept the same starting eleven which rather limply lost out to Arsenal last week, with Saha retaining the role as misfiring striker. Heitinga’s positioning and the depth he plays in the anchor role often depends on the opposition formation and to a lesser extent Everton’s game plan.  With Sunderland playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 and no player between the lines of defence and midfield the want away Dutchman played level with Arteta almost as an orthodox central midfielder, albeit both where noticeably playing deep.

Gyan’s injury for Sunderland meant that Darren Bent came straight back into the starting line-up to partner Welbeck up front.  One calamity defender replaced another as Anton Ferdinand took a break from court appearances to fill in for Bramble in the Mackems backline.

Early Exchanges

Everton started the brighter and were in front after just 6 minutes. Classic interplay between Pienaar and Baines down the Everton left concluded with Baines delightful cross being tucked in by Everton’s talismanic Cahill. It is a well rehearsed manoeuvre  which Everton regularly execute superbly, with Pienaar tucking in, sucking the full back inside with him giving Baines the freedom of the flank to expose (shown in diagram below)

Baines/Pienaar interplay

Rather than kick on, Everton began to be sloppy in possession, with countless balls either lashed into touch or to the opposition by Distin in particular, although to be fair Sunderland’s pressing was notably improving.  Just as the left side is Everton’s most attacking weapon, defensively it is alarmingly the Achilles heel. Pienaar’s powder puff challenge on the ageing Zenden was as sloppy as Baines attempted challenge, allowing the former Anfield misfit to slot in the hard working Welbeck who got between Jagielka and Distin to equalize. It was a goal which from a defensive point of view was easily avoidable.

Everton then kicked on, Pienaar coming more inside in advanced positions with the Arteta/Heitinga platform sitting quite deep as protection in a 4-2-3-1. Everton were still dominating the ball and where occupying a higher line than Sunderland, shown by the below diagram which highlights the average position players held during the game. Notice how the majority of Everton’s players occupied positions in the Sunderland half in comparison to their hosts whose average position was on the whole in their own half.

Saha struggling to make an impact

The lack of pace and penetration offered by Everton’s forwards has been a feature of this season, and this was to continue tonight. Yakubu has been pillared in the past for his limited work rate but Saha’s display tonight was truly shocking. In comparison to Welbeck, a player of considerably less quality, Saha’s heinous outing is all the more galling. As shown in the chalkboard below, Welbeck successfully linked play down the flanks and through the middle, completing 24 passes and forcing 5 shots. Saha completed 50% less passes and forced just one weak effort on goal. Evertonian’s will to an extent forgive a striker who fails to score but not one who fails to give 100%.

More problems down the left

Despite Everton having comfortably more of the ball than their hosts as the second half unfolded, they were again hit by a sucker punch with the origin of the goal an all too familiar source. After Arteta had lost the ball in midfield in a similar manner to last weeks second goal against Arsenal, the resulting play led to Welbeck capitalising on poor marking to head home after a good cross from Richardson. Cameras later proved the x box loving wannabe had been in an off side position when he crossed the ball. The goal was the 11TH time Everton have conceded a goal from the left side this season. With 15 goals conceded in total its clear this is a weakness teams are exploiting.

Late Equaliser

Everton threw on Rodwell and then made a double change with Beckford and Yakubu coming on. With pressure mounting, it was Baines again who was instrumental in providing traction to the Blues attack, teeing up Arteta who shanked a ball that didn’t appear to be troubling Gordon until the ‘Scottish International’ Bardsley deflected the ball past his keeper. It was a stroke of luck the Blues deserved given their dominance of possession (55% v 45%) and fighting spirit. It was Baines 7th assist of the season and the 11th of Everton’s 16 goals which have come from the left flank.  We should then have gone on to win the game, as Jagielka’s hopeful last ditch punt down field was met by Beckford who got under the ball and propelled his strike into the stands.


The trend of draws continues as Everton recorded their 11th deadlock in their last 21 games.  Our passing and movement was again of a pretty decent standard but this good work was undone by sloppy defending.  Saying that, Sunderland are a decent side and their pressing when not in possession was generally better than ours. In conclusion, I feel that Improved performances by some of Everton’s more senior players such as Heitinga , Saha and to an extent Arteta  would surely have seen us edge this entertaining tussle.