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Everton Season Preview: Left-back

Three’s company in the left-back spot

Clive Brunskill

Player

Apps

Goals

Assists

Yel

ADW+*

Tac.+**

Int.+***

Pass Success %

Crosses+

Leighton Baines

32

5

4

6

0.4

2.9

1.1

85.8

1.3

Bryan Oviedo

8(1)

2

2

1

0.3

3.2

0.9

85

1.7

+Per game          *Aerial Duels Won         **Tackles            ***Interceptions

Arrivals

The tragic injury Bryan Oviedo suffered in January paved the way for Luke Garbutt to return from aloan spell at Colchester United, where Garbutt started all of his 19 appearances, scoring two goals. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, he only made a solitary substitute appearance for Everton; making his Premier League debut against Southampton in the penultimate away game last season.

It has been a busy summer for Garbutt, however, winning his first five England U21 caps and representing England youth in the Toulon Tournament. The young full-back started in the Toffees’ first pre-season fixture away at Tranmere and set-up the opening goal with a Baines-esque cross to put the goal at Steven Naismith’s mercy.

With Garbutt having an impressive summer it was almost like a new signing and young players acting like signings could perhaps be a key theme of this season with the addition of European football. Sadly, Garbutt suffered a hamstring injury in the second pre-season fixture against Leicester City in Thailand ruling the youngster out of the remainder of pre-season. This is not only a shame for Garbutt, but with Oviedo still not ready to return left-back has gone from one of Everton’s strongest positions to a positio where fans are hoping and praying that Leighton Baines gets through every game unscathed.

Returning Players

Baines had yet another incredible season for the Blues and even more freedom given by Roberto Martinez allowed him to have more influence on Everton’s attacking play, despite playing a less direct style of play. Two superb free-kicks from the set-piece specialist at West Ham United and another four custom cool as ice penalties rounded the Englishman’s scoring for the 2013/14 season. Baines put end to any speculation of a move away from Goodison Park when he signed a new four-year contract in January, which has since started a series of key players committing their futures in the same way.

Unfortunately the World Cup didn’t exactly go as planned for the 29-year-old, but that might not have been such a bad thing for Everton. For one; Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley got their rest earlier in the summer and could return to the squad that much sooner. Secondly, England’s poor showing could ignite the left-back to want to push his performance a bit further this season, if that’s even possible given his already high standards.

Bryan Oviedo was still an unknown quantity this time last year, but an injury to Baines allowed him to show Evertonians his quality. Scoring in his first two games deputising, the latter making him a club favourite for life. But then just under two months later, as injury gave him an opportunity, injury took it away just as swiftly.

A double fracture to the Costa Rican’s left leg destroyed his breakthrough season and his competition for Everton’s left-back spot as well as his World Cup dreams, where he certainly would have been involved. As for expectations from Oviedo this season, I would just be happy if he gets back to full fitness, playing at the same level as his brief spell last season.

Tactics

Tactically, Roberto Martinez’s system could not fit the three left-backs any better. All three are attacking players and Martinez employs a style of play that encourages freedom for both full-backs to venture forward. Under David Moyes, Baines developed into the most creative option – which meant (up until Seamus Coleman became the regular right-back) that close to every attack resulted in a Baines cross and the proof of whether this position was effective or not was in Baines’ assists and chances created stats. However under Martinez the full-backs are not looking to cross for a ‘big man’ every single time meaning they are contributing more in the build-up play rather than being the final piece of the play. Proof that the left-back is effective under Martinez’s way of playing is when we have the ball and both full-backs are in the final third of the pitch and are coming inside and are just as involved as the midfielders; in addition to the goals, assists and chances created.

Summary

Ultimately left-back is one of the strongest positions at the club, both in number and quality. Although the manager has mentioned the possibility of Baines becoming a holding midfielder, that doesn’t look like a transformation that is going to be happening any time soon and therefore Baines will probably be mentoring both Oviedo and Garbutt as both should look to follow his example and learn what they can from the league’s finest left-back. With the Toffees competing on four fronts this season and Oviedo coming back from his serious injury, I would imagine we will see all three of these players rather than Baines dominating this position; although barring injury he will be making the most appearances.