The 2012-13 season has been a benchmark season for Everton’s left-back Leighton Baines. He has consistently been one of the stand-out players over the course of the last eight months and has been one of the reasons for a strong season in the blue half of Merseyside. In 2012 he made several appearances in an England shirt and has built on that number so far in 2013, though the stalwart left-back Ashley Cole is still first choice with head-coach Roy Hodgson owing to his bank of experience and reliability.
But is it about time that a permanent change was made in the pecking order? Should the vastly improved Baines be the number one pick at left-back in all the key matches that England play in the near future?
Let’s pick apart the Premier League statistics for both players in order to compare, contrast and reflect upon the best choice for the national team going forward onto the challenges that 2013 and beyond will bring…
It is important to point out before we start that Baines has been in the starting XI for his club on 8 more occasions than Cole, so in some cases there will be a slight weighting in the favour of Baines. However, many of the stats that will follow bear a stage of averaging so that we can make safe judgements.
The first thing that strikes me from the statistics is that there are some remarkably similar stats for both players. The two that particularly interest me are those concerning tackles. Both players attempt a tackle every 40 minutes and have a success percentage in the mid-70s.
From our stats on possession we can see that Ashley Cole tends to win possession a lot more in the defensive third of the pitch in comparison to Baines, which suggests that Cole spends more of his time on defensive duty, though they both win possession – whether that be through a successful tackle or an interception; high up or deep – every 20 minutes. Note also that Baines loses possession much less often than Cole, which will be important to bear in mind later when we look at creativity and passing.
It is appealing to win the ball back from your opponent and cut out an attack, but crucially defenders are judged more and more on their ability to stay calm under pressure and make the correct moves when required. If we look to the number of defensive errors made by both players we see another similar statistic, yet there is a larger discrepancy in the minutes between each of the two defensive errors made by both players. The statistics tell us that Ashley Cole makes a defensive error more regularly than Baines does and will also, on average, be dribbled past more often than the Everton man.
The picture being painted of Baines from this section is a player more reliable and safer defensively than Cole.
Baines and Cole are both full-backs who enjoy moving forward, though they are generally given different levels of permission from their clubs to do so. England rely on overlaps and movement to add width to a side that lacks a word class left-sided midfielder in Roy Hodgson’s favoured 4-4-2 system and both players fit the bill well.
By looking over the passing zone statistics it is evident that Baines is employed at Everton as a greater attacking threat than Cole is at Chelsea. Baines has attempted almost exactly double the amount of attacking zone passes that Cole has himself tried, though Cole is far more successful in his completion.
To caveat, as Baines is making many more attempts at passes and a greater number of those are in a forward direction going towards the opposition goal, therefore he is more likely to fail with a pass because he will be closed down more often, he will be attempting many intricate and tantalizing passes in crowded areas of the pitch and they will generally be aimed towards a bigger number of opposition players ready to pounce on an inch of misplacement.
It must not be overlooked, however, that Cole has a far superior completion rate and that is one of the many benefits of playing the Chelsea man in an England shirt.
I think that you can select each player for a different situation and they will both perform to an excellent standard. The fact that Cole is usually the choice starter for the games in which England play a tougher opponent is vindicated by his passing statistics. Though he may not have a direct passing influence higher up the pitch, indirectly his ability to move the ball on further back provides a foundation on which to build when the time arises.
Having seen that Baines enjoys much of his passing time further up the pitch, we move nicely onto their attacking games.
Hands down, Baines is the winner here.
His statistics are akin to that of a winger and his value to the Everton side is exemplified beautifully through the number of chances that he has created (105); this number is the greatest of any player in the premier league in 2012-13. The chances that Baines creates come at a rate of about 3 per game, whereas Cole’s come at around once every match and three-quarters.
Something not to be overlooked is the accuracy and number of crosses that Baines has been able to contribute this season. For England, with big players like Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll available for selection as a target man, this should be utilized at every available opportunity in order for the true game of Baines to be made the most of.
We can see why Baines has been selected against opposition who Roy Hodgson feels can be attacked more frequently. He is extremely comfortable being involved in attacking moves and is just as competent in his ability to contribute heavily to the success of them.
Baines’ time now?
Is it time to make that decisive shift in selection and allow Baines to become the prominent left-back in the English national side? I suggest that it will continue to depend on opposition, but with time Ashley Cole will have to make way.
Cole’s contribution to the defensive cause can’t be ignored; he has been a fantastic player for England for many years and arguably one of the only English footballers of the last 5 years who would make it into a world XI. His worth in a defensive line against an opposition who will take the game to England from an attacking perspective is crucial to the hopes of any successful campaign that Roy Hodgson’s men are to have between now and Brazil 2014.
After that tournament Cole will be 33-years-old. If England are to move forward, he can’t be a realistic option for future tasks in an England jersey and – as we have seen – Baines is the best option to succeed, if not now on the back of a terrific season, then certainly in 15 months time.
His succession should bring a shift in the England system that will provide interest to those who watch them. For the first time in decades there will be a creative left-sided player that England can move the ball forward through. How Roy Hodgson, if he is to still be head coach, would build a side to do exactly that is an extremely interesting question, but for now we must sit and wait until the shift in selection comes to pass.
[box_light]All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]