Roberto Martinez was complimentary of Muhamed Bešić during his work as an analyst for the 2014 World Cup. As a defensive midfielder, the then 21-year-old flashed for Bosnia and Herzegovina as one of the bright young players on a team that had just played Lionel Messi's Argentina tough in a 2-1 loss. An Argentina team, mind you, that would make a run all the way to the final. In controversial and unlucky fashion, Besic's Bosnia would be bounced in the group stage, ending the nation's first World Cup after just three games.
A month later, Martinez signed the player he was so complimentary of. After a series of sporadic spot appearances in 2014-15, Besic has finally received his chance midway through his second season in blue. Despite a series of draws (some good, others not so) by Everton, Besic has put together a string of complete performances and as been arguably the Toffees best asset in early 2016. He's looked like the "very complete footballer" Martinez signed 18 months back.
You don't want to foul Chelsea just outside of the box. Until recently, free kicks from 20-25 yards out have been the main attacking weapon for the title-holders. This weapon's name is Willian. This did not make it easy for Besic in the first half of Saturday's match at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea were possessing more of the ball as you'd expect them to do at home, and when they weren't possessing, they were certainly winning possession, as a jittery right side of John Stones and Bryan Oviedo had more than a few giveaways of the ball against forward Diego Costa's half-press.
This is where Besic made his first contribution to the game. With the likes of Willian, Pedro, John Obi Mikel and Cesc Fàbregas all driving forward in search of a window for a shot or a final pass to Diego Costa, Besic made countless key tackles, and never once gave away a free kick. But you can say that's what he's there to do, as a defensive midfielder. So if Saturday's first half was Besic doing his job, what was his second half? Showing off his work-rate? Flashing his potential?
In one of most chaotic halves of Premier League soccer you'll see, Besic's most constant contribution actually came in a period when Everton surrendered three goals. Shortly after going down 0-2, Chelsea subbed in Brazilian youngster Kenedy for an ineffective Pedro. If you saw Kenedy jog onto the field, lucky you, that's the only time you saw him that game. Given a free-roaming role for a desperate team, Kenedy often played as a trailing runner to Costa's leading forward runs. Besic had the job of tracking back with the midfielder. And he did so. Every time.
In today's Premier League, every outfield player is expected to make some sort of attacking contribution. Right backs now lose time for lacking forward pace or crossing ability, for example. And because there can only be one Francis Coquelin, Besic will undoubtedly be asked to round out his game to keep his spot in the XI. Two passes to Kevin Mirallas tell us all we need to know there.
In a rare first half moment where Everton was on the front foot, Besic looked and found space on the left side for Mirallas to leak out behind Branislav Ivanovic. The pass was a yard behind and a touch slow and Mirallas never could trap it cleanly. But the vision was there.
Fast forward to the 80th minute with the score 2-2. Besic delivers the pass of the game in what's one of the toughest passes in soccer to make: the weighted through ball. After slicing through two rows of Chelsea players, Mirallas got on the end of Besic's ball for a breakaway, but snatched a bit on the shot and the would-be go-ahead goal was saved by Thibaut Courtois. Neither pass went for an assist, but it's the intent and instincts from a defensive-minded midfielder that will turn Besic into a fixture in the lineup.
But is he already a fixture? Only Martinez can know for now. James McCarthy will return soon. Tom Cleverley will return as well, but maybe not to the defensive midfield with Steven Naismith heading to Carrow Road. Sure, if he's healthy the sub appearances will remain fast and frequent, but that's not when he signed on for. After a game in which he completed 89 percent of his passes and after three high-level performances against Man City (twice) and Chelsea, maybe Besic has now truly arrived at Goodison Park. Maybe his time next to the ageless Gareth Barry, is now.