Player: Steven Naismith #14
Games Played: 31; Games Started: 22; Goals: 6; Assists: 0; Shots: 33; Fouls: 41; Fouls Suffered: 59; Yellow Cards: 8; Red Cards: 0 (All stats reflect only Premier League matches)
When Ross Barkley was injured just weeks before the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season, there was significant concern on Merseyside. The Toffees needed someone to replace the young No. 10 for the first two months of the season.
It was the 28-year-old Steven Naismith who stepped into that role, and he did so with surprising success. The Scottish forward scored four goals in the seven league matches Everton played before Barkley's return, making him one of the hottest strikers in the Premier League during August and September.
Naismith's work rate, grittiness, and goal scoring prowess have made him a fan favorite at Goodison Park, but the Scot had a mediocre second half of the season due in large part to the amount of time he spent on the wing due to the struggles of and injuries to Everton's top choice wing players.
Given the shortage of forward options the Toffees have, Naismith will surely continue to have an important role with the club, either as a second-choice striker or No. 10.
What He Did Well
At a club short of attacking options not named Romelu Lukaku, Naismith's goal-scoring prowess is his most valuable asset. As previously mentioned, during the opening stretch of the season in which he was playing regularly in a position comfortable to him, Naismith scored four goals in seven league matches.
In all, Naismith scored six Premier League goals in addition to two in the Europa League.
For a relatively small forward (5'10"/178 cm), Naismith is solid in the air. According to WhoScored.com, Naismith won 2.2 aerial duals per match. For context, consider that Lukaku won only 1.7 aerial duals per match, while Barkley won only 0.9 per match.
Naismith's time as a winger was generally unsuccessful this season, much as it was under David Moyes in Naismith's first season with the club. But, he is an incredibly willing defender when asked to play out wide, providing frequent help to Everton's full-backs. Naismith's 1.6 tackles per game, according to WhoScored.com, are significantly more than Lukaku's or Barkley's (0.3 and 1.1 respectively).
What He Could Have Done Better
Naismith's greatest weakness is his passing. Put simply, he is not a good distributor of the ball. He had only one assist this season, coming in Everton's 4-1 victory over Young Boys in the Europa League. In fact, Naismith has only four assists in his entire Everton career.
As an out-and-out striker, this is not a significant issue. But, at the positions he plays more frequently (winger or attacking midfielder), his poor passing leads to broken-down attacks, loss of possession, and potential counter attacks against. His 75.1 percent pass completion last season was worse than Barkley's (87.9 percent), Aiden McGeady's (84.9 percent), and Kevin Mirallas' (84.4 percent).
Obviously, Naismith is a different kind of No. 10 than Barkley, and both have their uses. But, if Naismith could add just marginally better passing to his second-striker brand of play as a No. 10, he would have a much better chance of regularly supplanting Barkley in the starting lineup.
Naismith's discipline is a secondary issue worth noting as well. His eight yellow cards and 41 fouls committed were second most among Everton players last season. Of course, Naismith also drew more fouls (59) than any other Everton player. So, if Naismith could maintain his high-intensity brand of football while staying a little more disciplined, it would improve him as a player. But, if his high-intensity and occasional lack of discipline cannot be separated, Naismith is better off keeping both in his arsenal.
What do you think of Steven Naismith's season?
In the poll below, give the combatative Scot a grade from A+ to F, with 'A+' being absolutely remarkable, 'C' being average, and 'F' being completely unacceptable.
Also, add your comments below!