Baines injury is Martinez's first conundrum

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesEverton could possibly be without the services of defender Leighton Baines until 2014.

Roberto Martinez has effortlessly taken the reins at Goodison Park. Though there is the occasional crease in need of ironing, such as the (lack of) set piece defending evident in the derby, the footballing transition from functional to fluent is an increasingly encouraging one.

One of the main reasons for the solid start under Martinez was the structured foundation greeting him upon arrival. Inheriting the kind of defensive platform lacking at Wigan, Martinez has started the same back five in each of the 12 league games this season.

This statistic will end on Saturday against Stoke, however, with Leighton Baines sidelined by way of a fractured toe. The injury forced Baines off during the second half against Liverpool, and Martinez expects the left back to miss anywhere between 10 days and six weeks.

- Report: Martinez: We'll cope without Baines
- Report: Baines out for a month

While the defender is unlikely to miss six weeks, the injury is set to at least keep him out for the visit of Stoke and the forthcoming trip to Manchester United. Therefore, facing the immediate future without his first choice left back, this represents the first selection dilemma for Martinez.

Nevertheless, there are a number of possible alternatives for the manager to choose from, although some appear far more practical than others. The option chosen on Saturday fitted the occasion, with Everton chasing the game, but such a bold selection seems unlikely from the start in subsequent matches.

Gareth Barry is one of the many left back possibilities, yet his talents are of greater use in midfield. Barry at left back also removes Ross Barkley from his advanced position; therefore, this works best in the caution-to-the-wind scenario witnessed on Saturday.

Another from the left-field school of thought is a switch to a three-man defence. This was the preferred setup of Martinez at Wigan, but Everton lack the ball-playing central defenders needed to make it a success.

Furthermore, the considerable upheaval required should render this idea obsolete. This formation tweak would thrust fringes players into the first-team picture, and leave the squad with very little time to adapt to a new setup.

Moving forward, then, the logical step is a like-for-like replacement, with Martinez able to select from several players. There is the aforementioned yet unlikely choice of Barry, while others familiar elsewhere within the defence, such as Tony Hibbert, Sylvain Distin or John Stones, could fill the void if asked.

Distin covered for Baines, briefly, during the David Moyes tenure, but the obvious candidate to replace Baines is the underused Bryan Oviedo. Largely restricted to League Cup action and sporadic substitute appearances since his arrival in August 2012, the Costa Rican can count himself unfortunate to have a player of Baines' quality ahead of him.

Oviedo made one start in the league last season, which was the 1-1 draw against Norwich. Utilised in a midfield position, the new signing provided the assist for Steven Naismith to cap a man-of-the-match display.

Featuring at left back in the two League Cup fixtures this season, Oviedo appeared in midfield once more as a substitute versus West Ham. Drifting infield, his introduction opened up the space on the flanks for Baines maraud forward on the overlap.

Proving his attacking capabilities during his fleeting appearances to date, Oviedo has the necessary talents to compensate for the loss of Baines in advanced areas. Doubts exist defensively, but Oviedo at least deserves the chance to prove his worth.

Moreover, the use of any other player in the left back spot would be exactly the kind of shoehorning tactic that regularly saw Moyes attract criticism. Rather than shuffle bodies around, or alter a system that the players are accustomed to, the rational answer is giving Baines' understudy an opportunity.


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