If Everton fans needed any reminder why manager Roberto Martínez is unwilling to sell Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to Manchester United, they received it in Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Norwich City.
Fellaini ran up and down the field all game long, initiating attacks and supporting the center backs as a holding midfielder, while Baines was one of the Toffees’ most dangerous attacking players from an advanced left back position.
In fact, Baines and Fellaini showed that they are key parts of Martínez’s tactical system, which calls for attack-minded outside backs and central players who can work on both ends of the field.
Baines’ main job is to create two-on-one isolations with left-sided midfielder Steven Pienaar, while Fellaini initiates attacks with his distribution and remains available to drop between the center backs as the outside backs overlap on both sides.
The OPTA stats pegged Baines’ passing at 86 percent efficiency, as he completed 51 of his 59 attempts, including 22 of 27 in the attacking third of the field. That far outweighed his contribution in the back third, where he completed all of his six attempts. He also created five chances to score with passes that led directly to a shot, leading the team in that category.
Meanwhile, Fellaini’s passing was even more efficient, at 91 percent completion, mostly in the middle third of the field. Greater than his numerical contributions, though, was his intangible quality of work rate. He covered ground all over the field, making runs up the middle to join attacks before retreating quickly when Everton lost possession.
“They are two great assets of the football club. I think they realise what they have done in the past, and they are very respectful towards that,” Martínez said of his stalwarts. “Football is a team sport, and the behavior of every player really matters. They have been a real example towards that.”
Further, the manager said he is not tempted at all to sell either player:
There is no temptation. In football, you want to keep your best performers, and that is where we are. You always get into a debate when there is a club that matches the valuation of a player. Then you need to make a decision. That has never been the case, and where we are is we want to keep our most influential players and build from that. It has been well reported what the approach has been. We take it as a football compliment and move on. Now, the focus has to be the games.