Everton left-back Leighton Baines gets another chance to impress on the international stage on Tuesday as he again fills in for the injured Ashley Cole for England’s World Cup qualifier against Poland.
Baines’ involvement also means more attention from Evertonians will be paid to the national team. The Goodison Park faithful has a curious relationship with England – generally speaking interest extends only as far as the Everton players who are involved and with two likely to start – Baines joined by Phil Jagielka – and Ross Barkley among the substitutes, Evertonian concern is at its highest for a while.
But there is a contingent – not restricted to Evertonians – who feel Baines should be first choice over Cole even when the Chelsea man is fit. Baines is almost exactly four years younger than Cole, who will turn 33 shortly after Baines turns 29 in December, and with Cole’s early-to-mid-30s teammates Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard speaking of next year’s World Cup as their last, it’s not unreasonable to assume Cole would feel likewise. If so, Baines’ time will come in the near future regardless.
Baines made his England debut in March 2010 and has picked up 20 caps since – Cole by contrast has over 100 caps and an international career dating back more than a decade. At club level, the statistics point to Baines as the player more important to their team, if not determining who the “better” player is. Figures from the BBC revealed that in the same number of club appearances, Baines has scored more goals, created more chances, played more passes, delivered more crosses, put in more tackles and been successful with a higher percentage of them – 85% to Cole’s 77%.
The BBC’s report on England’s 4-1 win over Montenegro also named Baines as England’s standout player in the first-half as he created a number of chances for his teammates, pointing to his attacking credentials. His goal threat largely comes from free-kicks, meanwhile, most notably the double against West Ham earlier in the season – and also a memorable, spectacularly swerving effort at Newcastle earlier in the year. Goals from open play are less common but under David Moyes, Baines was often Everton’s furthest player forward and usually the most reliable attacking outlet.
His role has changed somewhat under Roberto Martinez – the emergence of Barkley has seen the midfield become the fulcrum of Everton’s attack – but Baines hasn’t disappointed in his performances. Steven Pienaar’s injury and Marouane Fellaini’s sale have meant that Baines is the only one of what was an effective triumvirate left standing, and he has not had a settled partner on the left wing. Martinez’s admirable desire to play expansive, passing and attacking football means Baines often starts further up the pitch too, rather than making runs from deep, either over- or under-lapping, further changing his role.
But having gone from Wigan to Everton to one of the best left-backs in England, Baines has shown he is good enough to adapt. He just has to do it again.
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