Leighton Baines has now surely moved ahead of Ashley Cole in the pecking order as England’s first choice left-back following world-class performances in the wins over Poland and Montengro.
As England qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Baines put in two stunning performances that now warrant him the place in England’s starting 11 ahead of Cole. Despite Cole’s centurion level of experience and the decade of dominance in his position for England, Baines’ ability means he is a better option.
Assuming both are fit for Brazil next summer and the standards of form continue, I cannot see how Baines can be denied. Firstly, the most important part of his game, defending, is more than good enough. There were doubts that it wasn’t as good as Cole’s, but I now disagree.
It is almost flawless in these two crucial qualifiers — he has an understanding with centre-back Phil Jagielka, who is his Everton teammate and is at the peak of his career. The number of decisive tackles and interceptions he made against Poland in particular was phenomenal. It wasn’t like he was up against an average standard of player either; it was Jakub Blaszczykowski — one of Europe’s most threatening right wingers.
The argument, of course, could be that Baines may struggle against a quality right winger and equally dangerous right-back. But, I’d have to say that his threat going forward is going to keep any right-back more inclined to stay back. For me, Baines is showing the best delivery of the ball for England into the box that we have seen since David Beckham was in his peak. It a serious game-changing ability.
The number of times we see Baines popping up in space on the left is one thing, but to then have the ability to find a cross perfectly positioned for an England or Everton striker is stunning. To leave that out would be mad. He has the technical ability to beat a man and escape a tight gap, which helps his side retain possession. This will be crucial for England in Brazil.
I haven’t even covered arguably the best part of his game though: his dead-ball ability. Whether it be from the corner spot or a free kick, it is of the highest quality. If England are struggling to break down a side, but have a free kick on the edge of the box, then having Baines on the pitch will strike fear into the opposition purely because his record is brilliant. The fact he is left-footed is even better, as it gives England an alternate angle.
Cole is a great player to have in the squad. He has experience and an ability to read the game that many could only dream of. But the four years younger alternative of Baines is the better option. England are a far better and more dangerous side with him in defense. International football requires lots of ways to create goals and top fullbacks — Baines is exactly that.