Left footed players have always been at a premium in the English game, to the point where any left footer is almost guaranteed a place in the squad. So the debate that is currently rumbling on is a refreshing one – who do England choose to play at Left Back?
In Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines, England posses two of the best Left Backs currently playing the game, and it is unfortunate that the two of them are playing at the same time as one another, as were this not the case, each would have been outright first choice.
They both offer different aspects, Cole is fantastic defensively, and effective attacking, whereas Baines is fantastic when attacking, and effective when defending.
Cole had been first choice by a long way until recent years, and established himself as one of Englands top performers and indispensable players. His presence defensively was vital, and he offered something in attack with his pace and technical ability. He was England Player of the Year in 2010, and is the most capped Full Back in England history, to date he has accrued 105 caps, all without scoring (another record, though a less admirable one), and for there to be any question to him playing at the age of 33 shows exactly how high he is regarded by the nation and management.
Baines on the other hand, had always been on the fringes. First
coming to peoples’ attention at Wigan, and then later Everton, is a far more low key entrance than Cole (who has played for Arsenal and Chelsea), which has maybe hindered his progress.
However whilst at Everton, his stock has considerably risen. He earned his first call up to the squad in 2009, after the international retirement of Wayne Bridge, and made his debut against Egypt in a friendly in 2010. Baines did not make the squad for the 2010 World Cup, which caused a stir in the media.
On his competitive debut against Switzerland, Baines replaced the injured Cole, and assisted Ashley Young for the equalising goal, and since then, he has really challenged for the spot, also doing something Cole is yet to, scoring, in the 5-0 defeat of Moldova.
Looking at the head to head stats of these two offers an insight.
Caps 21 105
Won 14 62
Drawn 5 30
Lost 2 13
Goals 1 0
Win Percentage 66.66% 59.04%
Premier League 2012/13 Stats
Played 38 31
Chances created 116 18
Crosses and Corners 353 52
Shots 23 14
Assists 5 2
Minutes per goal 684 2790
Shot accuracy 52% 21%
Premier League 2013/14 (up to 7/10/2013)
Played 7 7
Goals 2 0
Chances created (including assists) 11 6
Passes 333 301
Crosses 55 6
Tackles made 21 13
Tackles won 18 10
The statistics further back up the point of what England gain through Baines. His creativity is vital for Everton, and it is proven here. Ashley Cole is a far less creative player, and where he is reliable defensively, goals and chances coming from different areas of the pitch can only help the cause when it gets to Rio.
There is no doubting that Ashley Cole has proven his worth, however, he may not be what England want to look to, as they develop their formation to accommodate three central midfielders and two more attacking wingers, he will be expected to be able to get forward a lot more, to offer support to the wingers, and be able to get back in to do his defensive duties.
Baines on the other hand is 28, and where he may not be as strong defensively, he has the ability to deliver a cross, or from a dead ball situation, better than anyone in the current squad (as seen for Wayne Rooney’s goal against Poland, and in the chances he has created (for his club) and offers a goal threat.
All things considered, playing Baines now would be far more beneficial for the future, Cole is not going to be around for much longer due to his age, and to be able to call upon a player of his quality when in need is no bad thing. The slight worry if you will, is in the defensive side of things, where there are rewards to reap in the attacking third, there are risks at the back.
Not to say that Baines is poor when defending, he is accomplished in that area, but if he is too committed to attacking, then there can be holes left in behind that need filling.
Though thinking about it, the good far outweighs the bad in playing Baines, not least because he has the advantage of being five years younger than Cole, but also because of the different approach he brings to he game, and an air of mystery to opponents, who may be less familiar with him due to not playing at the highest level in his club career yet.
And the stats back him up on
this, take out the International ones (that aren’t all too comparable due to Cole’s supremacy with regards to Caps), and Baines is far and away the better of the two. All in all, in Rio 2014, I feel Baines may well be the answer.
Written by Matthew Henderson. Follow him on twitter @matt_hendo12