Cup Masterplan Shades Baines Feat
Only one statistic matters for Leighton Baines.
Had Everton not powered their way into this weekend's FA Cup semi-final, Leighton Baines would probably have been celebrating a rare personal achievement.
The defender had played every minute of his previous 99 Premier League games before taking a well-earned break as the Blues trounced Sunderland 4-0 on Easter Monday.
Among outfield players, only fellow left-back Wayne Bridge had reached three figures - but Baines is happy to eschew any personal accolade as he focuses on Saturday's Wembley showdown with Liverpool.
"It was an awkward one," Baines told evertontv. "The manager decided to shuffle the pack a little bit and maybe the priority was Saturday, so it was his decision. It would have been a nice landmark but I will start from scratch and try again.
"Saturday is the big one. The lads did a great job against Sunderland and hopefully that will help us at the weekend."
Baines' omission was one of five changes David Moyes made against the Black Cats but it mattered not as Everton ensured they will enter the clash with their Anfield foes in prime form.
"I think everyone has their tails up with the win over Sunderland and that helps everyone going into the game," observed the England man. "There is a lot of confidence going into the squad now, and that can only be a good thing.
"We hope being in good form helps, but we'd down-play the importance of it if we weren't in good form. It's whoever's in good form on the day, whoever gets that good luck on the day."
Impressive recent performances can now be teamed with a fair degree of showpiece experience following the Blues' double trip to English football's HQ in 2009.
On that occasion Everton triumphed on penalties over Manchester United in front of a Wembley crowd which was dominated - in noise if not numbers - by Evertonians.
"The experience of being there before should help us," continued the man who struck one of the successful semi-final spot-kicks. "All the lads are a little bit more experienced as well. Most of the lads are internationals and used to playing on big stages, so I don't think that will be a problem.
"It's important to have experienced those types of games before. Obviously the disappointment of not winning the final in 2009 will help spur us on.
"I suppose it does make a difference being from Liverpool," continued the Kirkby-born star. "You try not to get too caught up in it but obviously you hear first hand what it means to people around you. I think it's important for the local lads to make the other lads understand how much it means.
"I don't think it's difficult to grasp really. It's a big week of preparation, so it won't be too difficult. But we are there to make sure everyone understands."
A relevant indicator of Baines' growing importance to Everton's cause is provided by his rise to dead-ball protagonist-in-chief - a role which has also seen him become number one penalty taker.
"I am sure we will practice them [penalties] in the next couple of days coming up to the game," he said. "If it gets to that stage it could be important. I've not thought about it too much but it's a natural thing that I would probably look to step up and take one if it got to that point."