Everton manager Roberto Martinez described a fresh setback in Leighton Baines’ recovery from an ankle injury as a disaster in the build up to their season-opening fixture against Watford.
“We don’t know how long he will be out for, but it has been a real disaster,” said the Spaniard.
“It was devastating, because he had worked so hard and looked stronger than ever.”
“I don’t think I had seen him looking as powerful and refreshed in the last two seasons. Then there was this big knock.”
“We still have to find out how long it will be, but it is not going to be just two or three weeks – I think it is going to be a little bit longer than that.”
Baines is not only a first-class left-back, but he is also Everton’s go-to guy for set pieces, their penalty taker and their creative fulcrum.
Yet, despite his absence coinciding with a 2-2 draw against newly-promoted Watford, who twice took the lead at Goodison Park and would have won but for some naivety in the closing stages, the fresh damage to the ankle that required surgery last term could prove an opportunity rather than a ‘disaster’.
Reassuringly (especially for those who would see the Toffees cash in on John Stones) both Hornets goals were scored from central positions after incursions from the right-back/right-midfield position.
Brendan Galloway, the youngster tasked with deputising for Baines, was not culpable and nor, more importantly perhaps, was another left full-back brought on later in the piece.
In 2013/14 Bryan Oviedo won Everton hearts as an injury understudy for the England international, with a winning goal at Old Trafford among the feathers in his cap.
Before succumbing to an injury of his own, the club won seven of the ten games he started in Baines’ absence, losing just once.
Back in first-team contention after a length spell on the sidelines, the Costa Rican will be a more than suitable replacement.
However, the real reason Baines’ injury may prove a blessing is that it may force the Toffees to become more diverse and harder to work out in attack, with a greater degree of central creativity a priority.
Last season the club were unable to replicate the brilliance of their first campaign under Martinez, due in no small part to their opposition having grown wise to the importance of stifling their full-backs.
This exposed a weakness in the Everton armoury, a lack of creativity in the middle of the park.
Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and Tom Cleverley are more about solidity and keeping the ball moving than incisive passing, while neither Ross Barkley or his manager seem certain he is the midfield creator needed to take the pressure of Baines and Seamus Coleman.
Whether the issue is addressed tactically or through transfers remains to be seen.