Everton fought back admirably at Upton Park on Saturday, although at half-time, three points looked little more than a dream. The Blues were lethargic in the opening period, with several players seemingly running through cement, and West Ham deserved their lead at the interval.
Needing swift improvement, a brace of half-time substitutions revitalised Everton and provided the platform for victory. James McCarthy plugged the midfield gaps alongside the impressive Gareth Barry, while Romelu Lukaku offered the attacking threat lacking beforehand.
Nonetheless, whilst the substitutes earned their share of the plaudits, especially Lukaku, the ever-reliable Leighton Baines was the one digging his team out of a hole. Another day, another victory with Baines playing a key part – a common theme in many of his 251 appearances for the club.
Marauding forward from left back, Baines is not restricted by the shackles accompanying a defensive role. Prior to their half-time withdrawals, Baines had an average position ahead of Steven Naismith and marginally behind Nikica Jelavic. Equally impressive in defence, maybe even more so, Baines shone brightly in this stirring East End comeback.
Two unerringly accurate free kicks capped another industrious, influential display, as Baines became the first Everton player since Kevin Sheedy in 1986 to score two free kicks in the same game; the brace also moves Baines top of the Everton scoring chart (2).
Adept at free kicks and penalties, Baines has now scored the most direct free kicks in the English top-flight since the start of the 2008-09 season (6), and only Chelsea’s John Terry (32) has scored more Premier League goals from defence (21).
Hampered against Chelsea without Pienaar, when just 20% of Everton attacks arrived down the left side, Baines overcame his absence on this occasion and normal service resumed. The Blues played 44% of their football on the left in this enthralling encounter.
Aided by Bryan Oviedo, who replaced the injured Leon Osman, Baines utilised the space created by his teammate to drive Everton forward. Heavily involved throughout, only Gareth Barry (101), Phil Jagielka (76), and Ross Barkley (76) had more touches of the ball (73).
Composed in possession, Baines returned 93% accuracy from his 44 passes. Osman (97%) bettered this accuracy, but his match ended after just 52 minutes. Prominent in advanced areas, both here and in the other fixtures this season, Baines once again tops the Everton table on chances created (11).
That said, however, the creativity statistics do not do justice to Baines’ endeavours in this match. Just one chance created suggests a quiet afternoon, but it was not for a want of trying. Kevin Mirallas narrowly missed one delivery and a deflected cross also drew a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Underlining his attacking influence, Baines made 71% of his passes in the West Ham half, with 36% of his passes in the final third. Overall, Baines heads his teammates on attacking half passes and final third passes this season – and has successfully completed 159 of 220 passes in opposition territory, while his equally impressive final third statistics show 85% accuracy from 113 passes.
Displaying the other side to his game, the accomplished defensive capabilities, Baines returned the best tackling figures via a 100% accuracy from five tackles, whilst also making one interception and five successful clearances – only centre backs Phil Jagielka (11) and Sylvain Distin (10) made more clearances.
This season, Baines has eight interceptions, which is a return only Distin (12) tops among the defence. Regarding one of the vital defensive categories, building on his team-best numbers from last season, Baines again leads the way on tackling.
The England left back has won 13/14 tackles thus far and no Everton player can improve upon his 13 successful challenges, though others have attempted more. Baines also matches Distin and Seamus Coleman on possession won in the defensive third; each of the trio has regained possession 16 times to this point.
Leading the way on touches (435), Baines remains the heartbeat of this Everton side. Many doubted his ability to thrive under the stylistic changes implemented by Martinez, namely concerns over a potential drop in influence, but those doubts are being dispelled with staggering ease.