The primary architects of the finer football displayed at Goodison Park, Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar are vital to Everton Football Club. New boss Roberto Martinez may wish to implement his favoured three-man defence, but to do so would require the dismantling of this creative force.
A constant threat to the opposition, the pair standout for one simple reason – they never hide. Continually striving to influence matters, regardless of form, this admirable trait is one absent in several members of the current squad.
Analysis of the Premier League’s best outlines the quality of this left-sided duo. Baines ended the season as the most creative player in the division (116), while Pienaar closed the season in seventh place on 82 chances.
A glance at the aforementioned list emphasises the excellence shown by Baines in 2012/13. Finishing above Silva, Cazorla, Mata, Gerrard, Suarez and Bale is no mean feat. Last season also saw impressive personal records; the respective returns of 116 and 82 are the best for either player in a blue shirt.
Examination of the most creative Everton players confirms the importance of Baines and Pienaar. The remainder of the squad lagged behind, unable to compete with the relative individual rates of 29 minutes and 37 minutes.
Kevin Mirallas overcame several nagging injuries to place third on the list (43). The encouraging ratio of 43 minutes per chance hints at a more productive campaign in 2013-14 providing the Belgian remains injury-free.
Marouane Fellaini posted 40 chances, a direct result of his use in the advanced role, but the remaining players merely underline the reliance on Baines and Pienaar as all six fell below 30 chances.
Given the likely exit of Fellaini, the creative burden rests firmly on Baines, Pienaar and Mirallas in the months ahead. That is something that Roberto Martinez needs to address in the upcoming transfer window. As things stand, an injury or two threatens to cripple a side already short on creativity; ability and depth are a necessity for the new manager.
While both players arrived at Everton at the start of 2007-08, only Pienaar cemented a regular place; injury and the form of others ensured limited opportunities for Baines. Given regular football in subsequent campaigns, the Baines – Pienaar partnership began to flourish. The first signs of life came in 2008-09; the pair combining to make 81 chances for teammates.
Increased selection saw the figure rise to 128 in 2009-10, but the January departure of Pienaar affected the 2010-11 statistics. However, and this is testament to the form shown in the first half of that season, the creative productivity remained at a consistent level. Pienaar returned in 11-12 after his short-lived jaunt in London and, despite fewer minutes played, the combination improved on their previous creation rates.
The improvements displayed in the latter stages of 11-12 paved the way for last season, which proved the finest yet, with progression on all fronts: minutes played (6,486), chances created (198) and minutes per chance (33) – all three are their leading amounts in each category.
Acquiring a telepathic understanding over the years, aside from the interruption of Pienaar’s move to Spurs, there is clear evidence to support the lavish praise afforded these two players. Growing steadily each campaign, in relation to the Everton total, the creativity percentage is on the rise. From 22% to 30% in the space of two years, only the aforementioned Pienaar transfer prevented similar increases in seasons that followed.
Undeterred by the lowest minutes played total, the productive left side contributed 26% of the 378 Everton chances in 2011-12. Registering their most match action since joining the club, chances created doubled to 198 chances in 2012-13. Those chances formed 41% of the Everton total, thereby signalling the ever-increasing reliance on this acclaimed double act.
After Baines and Pienaar enjoyed their most productive campaign, both personally and collectively, Everton need to remove the creative ball and chain from these two. As brilliant as they are, this pairing is regularly overworked; the other players must ease the pressure during the forthcoming season.