With Ashley Cole being recognized as the best left back on the planet for much of the past decade, chances have been at a minimum for Leighton Baines in the England side. It is easy to see why the Everton left-back made reference to the importance of him seizing his opportunities in the side in Cole’s absence, as he understands that they do not come round often. Now, after two solid performances for England in competitive games and a first England goal, England manager Roy Hodgson may start to look towards Baines as a genuine rival to Cole. And with good reason.
For their clubs, if you look at both players from an entirely statistical point of view, then Baines comes out on top in most of the departments. Especially from an attacking perspective. Looking at Baines’s performances so far this season, then we can clearly see how dangerous he is going forward for Everton. In Everton’s recent 3-1 victory against Aston Villa, Baines created 8 chances for his teammates to go with the the 5 created against Manchester United and the 3 against WBA. This comfortably puts him ahead of any other player in the league in that department. A defender who offers such a threat, as well as goals and assists is an especially rare commodity.
He has linked up exceptionally in the past with midfielders in front of him. Leon Osman and especially Steven Pienaar to allow him to exploit space down the left hand-side and create chances. This is also demonstrated above, as ‘Baines to Pienaar’ was the most common pass combination in the game against Villa, with Baines finding the South African 18 times in total, 12 being in the attacking third. From an England perspective, a player in the mould of Ashley Young could definitely offer a similar foil for Baines, cutting in from the left hand side and freeing up space for the left-back to create chances as he does so well for Everton.
Baines has also improved a lot defensively in the last couple of seasons. Having watched him for a number of seasons, it is rare to see any winger get the better of the Everton fullback these days. This is an improved trait that we have also seen this season. In Everton’s opener, Baines was up against Nani and Valencia down United’s right hand side and dealt with them excellently. He won all his headers, made 3 clearances and completed 3 of his 3 attempted tackles. This was all in addition to the 5 chances that the full-back created. It would seem that Baines is beginning to turn into the complete full-back.
It is indisputable that Baines has improved significantly in recent years, but there is one thing Ashley Cole has that still might make him the number one choice for the time being. Cole has won everything from a domestic point of view and has resultantly played in some massive games, experience Baines doesn’t have.
The full-back made some key contributions on the road to Chelsea’s Champions League success last season, especially in his defensive play. In the last-16 games against Napoli, Cole made some telling contributions, clearing off the line to prevent Napoli going 4-1 up in the first leg, as well as clearing the ball away 9 times in the return leg at Stamford Bridge, 6 times from within his own penalty area. He also made 3 blocks in front of his own goal during Barcelona’s siege on the Chelsea goal in last seasons iconic 2-2 draw at the at the Nou Camp.
Cole has also excelled for England down the years, regularly being one of a small minority of England players that come away from major tournaments with some credit. Whilst he remains steady as a rock from a defensive point of view, in the most recent EURO’s Cole only created 1 chance for his England teammates in 4 games. He has set up just 4 chances for his teammates in his games for Chelsea this season despite their excellent start.
It would seem that as Cole has entered his 30’s, his role has become much more restricted and tailored towards the defensive side of his game. His rampaging bursts forward that were once his trademark have become noticeably less frequent in recent years. He will be approaching 34 when the World Cup comes along in 2014 and with Baines improving all the time coupled with the emergence of his Chelsea teammate Ryan Bertrand, the future looks in good hands for England at left-back if Hodgson decides to make a change. Baines has shown he can do well for England and would surely be able to replicate his form for Everton if he gets an extended run in the international side.
Its definitely one of those “good problems” for Roy Hodgson.
Who do you think should be England’s left-back for World Cup 2014? Would Baines be starting for England if he played for a more ‘fashionable’ club?
Follow me on Twitter: @13mattj13
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