Everton has confirmed that Leighton Baines suffered a fractured toe in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool.
The injury means the left-back could face up to six weeks on the sideline.
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez said: “It has been confirmed that Leighton has got a fracture in one of the bones in his right foot, which is the phalange.
“We need to treat that now and see how it develops. It could mean anything from missing six weeks to being back in 10 days because it depends how the fracture heals.
“It is in such a specific spot and we are going to see how it (the injury) reacts.”
So how difficult will Baines’ injury be on the Merseyside club?
At first blush, quite difficult. Over the last five years Baines has been the heart and soul of Everton. He has been so consistent, in fact, that his exit shortly after half-time on Saturday was the first time the England defender failed to complete a Premier League match since 2008.
Besides consistency, Baines has proven himself to be a weapon on both sides of the ball. An above average defender, Baines’ specializes in creating offensive opportunities down the left side of the pitch. Last year, no player in Europe created more opportunities than Baines, solidifying his partnership with Steven Pienaar as one of the Premier League’s most deadly.
There’s little doubt that Everton are a much less formidable side with Baines out of the squad. But from all indications, that’s a reality that Evertonians should get used to as my sources tell me that a transfer deal for Baines to Manchester United this January is all but done.
United have tried at least twice to buy Baines in the past, the most recent go this past summer when Roberto Martinez rejected a $24.3 million (£15m) bid for the defender. When the window opens this winter, expect David Moyes to come with an improved offer in the range of $29.1-32.4 million (£18-20m) and for Everton to take the money.
Assuming this deal comes to fruition, there’s no time like the present for Martinez to figure out his new defense. There are a few options.
Martinez could opt to change to a back three, something he was well known for during his Wigan days. To play with a back three a squad typically needs three large, fast center-backs. Sylvain Distin qualifies and Phil Jagielka, while not the speediest man in the world, should be able to make do.
Former Wigan center-back, Antolin Alcaraz, is now fit after undergoing a hernia operation and would be a natural fit as the third center-back. Another option is John Stones, who was massively impressive this summer in Everton’s pre-season friendlies.
Utilizing a back three would make Seamus Coleman the odd man out of the defense but the marauding right-back would likely be pushed into the midfield five to back-track and even out the back three in times of peril.
If Martinez chooses to keep a back four, however, Alcaraz or Stones could come into a center-back pairing with Jagielka, with the left-footed Distin moving out to the left-flank. Using Gareth Barry at left-back, as Martinez did against Liverpool following Baines’ injury last weekend, seems unlikely.
Ultimately this is probably a situation that will require Everton to purchase a left-back in the January transfer market. Martinez could make a move for Algerian international and St. Etienne full-back Faouzi Ghoulam, who at 22 years old could develop into a star of the future at Goodison Park.
One way or the other, the time is now for Everton to kick on without Leighton Baines.