Player: Leon Osman #21
Games Played: 21; Games Started: 13; Goals: 2; Assists: 1; Shots: 28; Fouls: 17; Fouls Suffered: 19; Yellow Cards: 0; Red Cards: 0
I have always been a staunch supporter of Leon Osman. The 34-year-old Englishman has a creative flair, high work rate, and decent defensive ability given his size.
But, one of his greatest assets as a player has always also been one of his greatest weaknesses as well, and the 2014-15 season was no different for Osman—his flexibility gives his manager the ability to play him in any number of places on the pitch. While it is good for Everton to have a reliable player who can fill in the gaps when injuries arise, for Osman, this often means a struggle to get any momentum going. He is no longer a regular starter for the Toffees, but still has an important part to play though.
This was the story of Osman's 2014-15 season. He had moments of brilliance surrounded by decent, but unspectacular play at every midfield position while filling in for injured or struggling players.
What He Did Well
The best way to get a sense of what Osman did well this season is to look at arguably three of his best matches of the season—October 18's 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, November 22's 2-1 victory over West Ham, and May 16's 2-1 victory over West Ham.
I wrote about Osman's role in October's victory over Aston Villa here, but the short version of that match is this—Osman lined up in his preferred position, as a No. 10, leading an attacking midfield trio of himself, Steven Naismith, and Ross Barkley. He combined fluidly with Barkley in particular, switching between a more central role and a left-sided role.
He completed 49 of 53 passes, helping Everton to a 61-39 possession advantage, according to FourFourTwo.com.
In November's victory over West Ham, Osman lined up in a defensive midfield role alongside James McCarthy. Osman played the full 90, completed 67 of 72 passes, and scored the game-winning goal in the 75th minute by using surprising pace to finish off a counter-attack opportunity.
In May's victory over West Ham, Osman lined up as a left midfielder. No one will be mistaking Osman for an out-and-out winger any time soon, but he can be useful in that role if the team has a true winger opposite him. In this match, that winger was Aaron Lennon.
So, Everton elected to generally play down the right, allowing Osman to drift to a more comfortable position in the center while the Toffees were in possession. It was from that position that Osman scored the equalizer in the 68th minute, exhibiting an exceptional piece of skill by pulling down a cross from Romelu Lukaku and volleying it home from the top of the six-yard box.
In short then, what Osman does best is fill the role of whatever is asked of him. His passing and vision skills help keep Roberto Martinez's boys on the ball, and Osman knows how to finish when called upon.
What He Could Have Done Better
At 5'8"/173 cm and 34 years old, the physical aspect of the game was always going to elude Osman this season. He was never particularly strong or quick, and age surely has not helped that part of his game.
This has ultimately brought Osman to a point in his career where he is not going to single-handedly take control of games. Put in the right attacking-midfield trio, as we saw in October, he can be absolutely dangerous. Put next to McCarthy as a holding midfielder in November, Osman managed to forge a fruitful partnership in the center of the pitch.
But, Osman is not quick enough to generate much danger on is own as a winger, and Ross Barkley and perhaps even Steven Naismith are more dangerous and explosive on their own as a No. 10.
Unless Osman manages to turn the clock back, there's little he can do to turn these developments around. As a result, he'll continue to be a useful player off the bench and when injuries arise, but he just does not have the physical attributes to be a long-term solution out wide or as a holding midfield, and he cannot continue to supplant Barkley as a No. 10.
What do you think of Leon Osman's season?
In the poll below, give the experienced Englishman a grade from A+ to F, with 'A+' being absolutely remarkable, 'C' being average, and 'F' being completely unacceptable.
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