Cardiff draw highlights Baines' importance

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Michael Steele/Getty ImagesEverton will truly be at a loss if Leighton Baines, center, departs. Teammate Marouane Fellaini also could be leaving the Toffees.

Patience and transition are the buzzwords around Goodison at present, though that is unlikely to deter those expecting instant success from Roberto Martinez. The new manager needs time to implement his style on a team versed in the methods of his predecessor.

Fortunately, for those of a sane mind, there is the realisation that a Premier League season consists of 38 matches. The task assigned to Martinez is dragging a side on the brink of European football to the next level, which is something that will not happen overnight.

-Cardiff holds Toffees

As Martinez said upon his arrival, "the aim should be Champions League football" and "that doesn't mean next season but that has to be the aim for the future". Dedicated and a slave to his profession, the Spaniard warrants a prolonged attempt at realising these ambitions.

For the third game in succession, Everton topped countless categories to serve up another statistical pummeling, but the lack of goals is maddening to watch despite the statistics hinting at a team adjusting well to their new style.

Nonetheless, the highest average possession (64.1 percent) and the third highest passing accuracy (85.9) bode well for the future. Fine-tuning the system, Martinez is moulding players used to percentage football into ones capable of dominating matches from the outset.

At present, the missing ingredient is the goals needed to turn dominance into wins, which the manager and players can address over time. Furthermore, in spite of the scoring issues, there is at least one pleasing aspect to emerge from the matches to date.

There are no signs of the predicted defensive crisis accompanying Martinez from his time at Wigan. The combination of possession football and a strong defence have led to the opposition struggling to fashion chances.

Cardiff managed just four attempts Saturday; all four arrived from outside the area and only one found the target. Add just two shots on target from West Brom and it is clear the new approach is lessening the workload for the Everton defence.

For a side that went 18 matches without a clean sheet during last season, these early defensive displays are addressing one of this team's prevailing weaknesses. Conceding just three shots on target in 180 minutes of league football, it is forward areas where the teething problems subsist.

Relying on players to retrieve possession and build attacks, Everton are suffering due to the insufficient attacking platform provided by central midfield. In this regard, the international break arrives at an opportune moment as the return of Darron Gibson will improve matters.

Gibson is the one midfielder willing to dictate the play and get Everton on the front foot. Capable of injecting drive into the attacking play, his presence can help alleviate the mind-numbing tempo witnessed to date.

Needing to sharpen up in the final third, the static build-up allows the opposing players to filter into position and nullify openings. As time advances, Everton must tackle these issues.

Elsewhere, Ross Barkley showed why he is tailor-made for the advanced midfield role. Slide-rule passes presented chances for Nikica Jelavic and Kevin Mirallas, which each squandered through poor decision making.

After an impressive preseason, the aforementioned duo have struggled to impose their quality on proceedings. As a result, the decision to give Gerard Deulofeu just five minutes was puzzling.

Not that Deulofeu let the lack of time hinder him; the Barcelona loanee added much-needed urgency to the forward line. The Everton performance was succinctly summed up when Deulofeu fizzed a cross into the 6-yard box and his teammates statically watched.

Off the field, with the end of this laborious transfer window in sight, Evertonians will pray Leighton Baines remains at the club after Monday. Since Marouane Fellaini looks a likely departure, it is imperative that Baines is kept under lock and key.

The model professional amid a summer of ongoing speculation, Baines has focused on his football. The standout performer in this 0-0 draw, the England man delivered a performance of undoubted quality, which has become the norm throughout his 249 Everton appearances.

Denied a clear penalty in the first half, the England left back spent much of the match as an auxiliary winger. Completing the most passes in both the opposing half and the final third, Baines is indispensable. The prospect of life without him is unthinkable for the majority of Evertonians.


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