For the last three seasons Evertonians have enjoyed keeping their secret weapon quiet. Our left back; the softly spoken, erudite, musical blogging, local lad has been steadily going about his business without anybody taking too much notice. Unfortunately in the 2010/2011 season the cat came so far out of the bag that the fire brigade had to be called to retrieve it from the tree.
Leighton Baines is by far and away the best left back in the league. These may sound like royal blue tinted spectacles, but thanks to the wonder of statistics I can go some way to proving this.
Baines has been a model of consistently for three seasons now and has missed just three premier league games in total, only one of those has been in the past two seasons. He’s been playing in a team who although not at their defensive pinnacle in the past three seasons have still averaged the 7th best defence in the league in that time period.
Baines is an underrated defender in his own right and statistically last season Ashley Cole, who was playing in the best defence in the league, managed to make just 5 more tackles but was behind Leighton on blocked crosses.
But I’m not making a case for the defence here; it’s Baines’s assists record that is the startling subject matter. He has steadily improved his assist rate season on season: in the 08/09 season he managed 7, more than any other defender that season, the following year in 09/10 he upped that by 2 to 9 assists, equaling Nick Shorey’s record for most ever assists by an EPL defender in a single season, then this season he upped it once more by 2 totaling a whopping 11 assists behind Dani Alves (is he even a defender?) by just 1. “Set pieces” I hear you cry, on the contrary, ask any blue about Leighton’s corners and they’ll tell you they are normally quite disappointing, only 3 of his 11 assists came from a set piece last term and is something he could improve on.
To put that in context for you Leighton Baines has assisted 27 goals in 3 season, 17 more than England counterpart Ashley Cole and 16 more than another attacking England full back Glenn Johnson. So Baines has a good assists rate for a defender, so what? Well, what if I was to tell you over the last 3 seasons only 3 Englishmen of any position have assisted more goals than him (Lampard:31, A.Young:30 and Milner:28)? That he has assisted 5 more goals than Steven Gerrard and 4 more than Wayne Rooney? 12 more than the little Croatian causing a stir at White Heart Lane (Modric that is, not perennial Everton target Krancjar)? Would that satisfy you?
The more I look at the 26-year-old’s statistics from last year the more I have to rub my eyes in disbelief, he had a hand (either scoring or assisting) in 16 of Everton’s 51 goals last season, a whopping 31% of our goals came through the little left back we once let go for not making the cut.
The worry for Evertonians of course is that their free spending neighbours need a left back, however as Moyes said “Everton don’t sell cheap” and as a fairly intelligent, family man of the city I should imagine he’d know that making the move across the park would make his art-house cinema and gig visits in the city slightly more difficult.
The real problem is that we are so reliant on him that any injury could leave us with Phil Neville at left back, who as far as I can see hasn’t assisted 27 goals in his 16 year career. Perhaps more poignantly though, with a -10 goal difference and only 38 points (working on the basis that our 51 goals yielded 54 points, 1.05 points per goal): relegation.