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Cole vs Baines: Who should be first choice?

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One of the toughest decisions England manager Roy Hodgson has to make throughout this World Cup qualifying campaign and, perhaps, beyond, is who his first choice left back is.

In one corner you have a solid, established English footballing legend, and in the other you have one of the most in-form players in the Premier League at the moment, who is improving by the game.

It is important when weighing up a situation such as this that club rivalry bias does not alter people’s opinions. Ashley Cole is one of the least popular players England have produced in recent memory while Baines is a likeable, down to earth lad from Liverpool, but that is completely irrelevant when it comes to picking your best player in a certain position.

In Warsaw tonight, Cole looks likely win his 99th cap for England, and in some people’s opinion he is the finest full back to have ever represented his country. Only the likes of Ray Wilson, Terry Cooper, Phil Neal and Gary Neville deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the 31 year old.

As part of England’s ‘golden generation’, he has been the only player who has performed consistently well at international level, with his best displays coming in the biggest games. Who could forget his performance against Portugal in Euro 2004, where his thwarting of a young Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the most impressive defensive displays by an Englishman.

While not the most naturally gifted attacking full back around there is nobody you would rather rely on in a huge game. While the likes of Dani Alves, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao are more explosive players, none are as efficient and consistent as Cole. A perfect example of this were his displays in the latter stages of Chelsea’s heroic Champions League triumph, where he was exceptional in containing Alexis Sanchez and Arjen Robben, against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, respectively. Players of this calibre are capable of tearing people apart but Cole revels in these moments.

Many players begin to suffer more injuries and a loss of pace as they hit their thirties, but Cole is showing no signs of slowing up and looks as fresh now as he did at 25. Barring injury, he will almost certainly make the plane to Brazil in 2014, even as he approaches his 34th birthday.

cole 141x200 Cole vs Baines: Who should be first choice?

But what of his rival, and major threat to his place in the starting eleven?

baines 91x200 Cole vs Baines: Who should be first choice?

Leighton Baines is a player who, had he played at a different time, perhaps during the days of Graeme Le Saux for England, would have many England caps to his name already. Much like how Jamie Carragher had John Terry and Rio Ferdinand to contend with, and Robbie Fowler had to try and oust Alan Shearer for the number nine spot, Baines has had a player thought of as the best in the world in his position as competition.

At 27, Baines is in his absolute prime, and his form over the last year or so backs up that theory. As mentioned previously, he has been the standout defender in the Premier League so far this season, combining reliable defensive work with classy attacking bursts. His final ball is almost always spot on, while his set piece delivery is second to none. Add to that an eye for goal and it’s clear to see why so many are tipping him to replace Cole in the near future.

He was inexplicably left out of England’s 2010 World Cup squad in place of Stephen Warnock, which probably set him back a year or two. Rumours of homesickness were touted as the reason for his omission, which can be the only logical reasoning behind it. Probably the biggest thing working against Baines is that he is yet to be fully tested for England in a game of real magntitude, and at times his performances have not mirrored those for Everton. You have to be given the chance to prove yourself at some point though, and Baines is nearer than ever to getting this opportunity.

http://youtu.be/rhqtVgire3I

So what would you do if you were Hodgson?

If it all goes down to current form then Baines is the clear favourite, not that Cole has been playing remotely poorly. Many argue that a player should get into any side on merit, not by reputation, and some feel that this is the case at the moment. Does Hodgson have it in him to omit a player of such stature?

If experience is the key to the decision then Cole is the obvious choice. He has won everything there is to win at club level, including three Premier League titles and a record-breaking seven FA Cups. Hodgson has to weigh up whether this vast level of success and winning mentality is too important to replace or not.

colebaines 200x140 Cole vs Baines: Who should be first choice?

As of this point it looks as though Cole will come back into the side for what is a very tough away trip to Poland, suggesting that he still sees Cole as his number one. This is the correct decision personally, but Baines should not feel too disappointed. For the first time in Cole’s career his place is under serious threat and it will be fascinating to see how he performs under such pressure. He knows that one of two slip ups will hand Baines the opportunity he so craves.

Between now and the 2014 World Cup, presuming England qualify, it will be a wonderful battle for supremacy between two outstanding left backs in their own right. Who would you choose: the king, or the pretender to the throne?

Follow me on twitter: @henryjackson87, and email henryjackson@hotmail.co.uk

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Comments (13)

  1. i think baines should get it, hes been fantastic this season and the past 2. im a liverpool fan and hes the only everton player i actually enjoy watching. cole is great defensively but currently baines should just pip him to the LB slot

    • Behave Harry,Fellaini,Jelavic and Pienaar (Playing along side Baines) would breeze into the Liverpool side. There’s others,but I can’t be arsed rowing over it.

  2. Baines all day long, great defender, can score, can cross, can take penalties, can take free kicks. No contest.

    Cole can only defend, might as well be a CB.

  3. Baines… simple as

  4. baines by a mile, i don’t know why the f.a. allowed cole to get away with what he said, the defence should be baines lescott jags and walker

  5. The cole verses baines press beat-up is an absolute joke — in one corner you have a bloke who’s never played champs league, has played less than 10- games for england including some stinkers like the last friendly before South africa when he got turned inside out — in the other corner we have Ashley Cole who’s played endless tough champs league games including two finals plus won more trophies than anyone else in the game right now — some contest

    This is all coming from the attempt of the press owners to ruin Terry and Cole for taking out super injunctions against the papers — something like that will ruin kiss and tell journalism — the ex players lounge at liverpool have jumped on this as a means of creating a north west england team minus chelsea players — ex liverpool always have an agenda and they want to put useless players like shelvey in the shop window — north west england will end in tears starting tonight v Poland — you guys are a joke for discussing this

    • You are kidding right? Baines has been consistantly better than Cashley for two years now. You think I’m making that up? Look at the stats. Seriously go to OPTA and look. Baines has similar stats defensively playing against the same players week in week out. The only difference? Baines more than doubles Cole’s attacking contributions in every area. Double. That reason alone should put Baines in ahead of Cole for any team, national or not.

  6. Interesting views. Didn’t expect Baines to be so popular. As a Liverpool fan myself I also enjoy watching Baines play despite disliking Everton. I just feel that if my life depended on it I would have Cole every time. Can’t stand him as a person but huge respect as player.

  7. I’d play both. One at left back, probably Cole, and the other at left mid, probably Baines.

  8. So buddhas9 – you think Baines is rubbish then? You are the “absolute joke” ****head for not taking it as a serious point of debate.

    Cole has been / is a top player – Baines is coming on brilliantly (and could actually play left midfield just ahead of Cole). Again – it’s easy to pick out mistakes made by players – I can remember 2 Cole back passes in England games that gave away cheap goals – so no one is flawless.

    Baines – for me is now the all round better player. It’s an opinion. (I’m a Chelsea fan).

    Idiots like buddhas9 should get back in their prams and suck on their thumbs (or anything they prefer in his case). In his world only Big 4 club players can get an England call up.

  9. Well said that man.

  10. oh yeah chelsea jim the chelsea fan who hates chelsea — well done son — alright knuckle head point out the part where I said Baines was rubbish — thats the problem talking out of your arse your pants get in the way – you can’t read right — i said the debate was rubbish you dumb arse — and it is these players aren’t comparable and Roy thinks so too he’s played baines v sam marino and picked cole for Poloand.
    Had a bad day with the missus did you? I assume your unemployed — go steal a hub cup or something Jim you’re more scoucer than the scoucers

  11. Interesting debate. I definitely think you should pick players in form, but it is not exactly as if Cole is out of form, is it? Until this actually happens, how can you drop him for a competitive fixture?

    Regarding Baines’ offensive stats – maybe with Johnson as RB, cautious Hodgson doesn’t want two out and out attacking FBs. He already plays that numpty Milner to compensate for Johnson. Sometimes it is about team balance rather than picking the best players in isolation.

    BTW I support a Championship club, so there is no club bias from me when it comes to England.