Leighton Baines is arguably the best left-back in the Premier League and certainly one of the best in Europe but despite that fact, he isn’t what you’d call a ‘high-profile’ player at the moment. He is on a relatively modest salary for someone of his talents, he’s never played in the Champions League, at 28 he’s never won a trophy and has featured only 18 times for England. However, all that could change in a blink of an eye if Manchester United have their way.
The Premier League champions have already had a £28 million double bid for Baines and Marouane Fellaini turned down by Everton and have since launched an improved £35 million offer for the pair. The duo has been consistently linked with a move to Old Trafford ever since former Toffees' boss David Moyes took over the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson.
United have launched an improved £35 million offer for the pair
However, while United’s need for a midfielder is palpable, many have come to question their pursuit of Baines given that they already have Patrice Evra occupying the left-back position. The 32 year-old veteran has resided in the red half of Manchester for over seven years now and has grown into one of the team’s leaders on and off the pitch, often donning the captain’s armband in Nemanja Vidic’s absence.
There is a solid argument to be made for the Frenchman. He has a winning mentality, is a strong character and is committed to the club and its values. He’s great going forward, has good energy levels and has added goals to his game last season, becoming a potent aerial threat from set-pieces. However, despite his good qualities, his vulnerability in defense is well documented.
Baines on the other hand is even shorter than Evra and doesn’t pose an aerial threat but he has an explosive left foot to make up for that. He scores a few goals from open play but direct free-kicks and penalties are his bread and butter. In fact, he’s known to be one of the best free-kick specialists in the Premier League and has scored 14 of the 16 penalties he’s taken during his time at Everton.
Baines is a dead-ball specialist
The Evertonian isn’t the most vocal individual and is instead someone who keeps his head down and sticks to his task. He may not be a natural leader but he is certainly someone you can rely on especially from a defensive perspective in comparison to Evra and that’s one of the biggest factors that could be driving United’s bid for him.
The former Monaco defender’s positioning is an aspect of his game that’s come under criticism far too often. He’s been guilty of getting caught up the pitch or being sucked infield and leaving the opposing winger unmarked time and again. He notoriously plays attackers onside which is criminal as a full-back given that their job is to stay ahead of the center-backs and leave the offside-trap up to them.
Despite his improvement last season, he’s still a liability in defense and had it not been for his pace, he may have failed to bail himself out of hot water on several other occasions as well. Meanwhile, Baines is renowned for his stability and consistency in defense. It’s not that he never gets beaten but he reads the game well and is always where he’s supposed to be. He’s a hard worker and his best asset in defense is that he’s got his fundamentals nailed down and he does the simple things well.
Evra's not the hardest defender to get past
While Evra is entering the twilight of his career, Baines is basking in his prime. There may only be a four-year gap between the two full-backs but physically, that does make a difference while it also means that United would be acquiring someone with plenty of experience and hence may slot into life at Old Trafford with minimum fuss.
Evra has always been effective going forward but Baines’ ventures into the attacking third are on a whole other level. On the surface, the two full-backs’ contribution in attack last season seem nearly identical with Evra notching up 4 goals and 5 assists in the Premier League while Baines registered 5 goals and 5 assists.
However, Baines created a mind-boggling 116 chances for his side while Evra only managed 27. In fact, the former Wigan Athletic player created more chances than any other player in the Premier League last season. To put things into perspective, that’s 12 more chances than Oscar (47), Mikel Arteta (26) and Frank Lampard (31) created collectively.
Baines vs Evra in the Premier League last season
To understand where he stands among full-backs, consider that he’s created 7 more chances than Pablo Zabaleta (18), Bacary Sagna (20), Rafael (24), Ashley Cole (18), Luke Shaw (10) and Gael Clichy (19) combined. (Stats: Whoscored.com)
Had Baines had better finishers to aim for say, Robin van Persie for example, he may have had plenty more assists to his name. It’s frightening to contemplate how the Dutchman could benefit from the left-back’s deliveries considering that he’s done so well already despite the poor form of United’s wingers last season.
Van Persie could benefit from Baines' arrival
If the Red Devils don’t sign another wide player and instead end up keeping Wayne Rooney, there’s a possibility that Shinji Kagawa could have to continue on the left flank and maybe even operate in a Steven Pienaar-like role with Baines overlapping him. The 28 year-old would certainly get a lot more crosses in as he averaged 2.8 crosses per game last season while Evra only recorded 0.6 per game.
This is not to belittle Evra’s contribution though. The Frenchman is a winner and Sir Alex Ferguson saw that in him, hence naming him captain so often. When the Scot called time on his illustrious career, he would have known that he was leaving this United squad with plenty of leaders to keep that winning mentality alive and he would’ve singled out Evra as one of those players.
Time for Baines to make the step up
Especially when United have chased goals to comeback in games, Evra has always been one of those individuals who fought more, pushed harder and ran further than others, the only problem is that he was so often guilty of the team’s deficit in the first place.On evidence of Evra’s performance last season, United are not in dire need of a left-back but you have to try and improve the team in any way you can and signing Baines certainly does that. There’s no doubting the Englishman’s ability and his step up to the big stage is long overdue.
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