England face two crucial 2014 World Cup qualifiers this week as they look to book their place at the finals in Brazil next year.
Manager Roy Hodgson named his squad for the Wembley double-header against Montenegro and Poland on Thursday, but has been dealt a blow after the weekend Premier League fixtures.
Chelsea defender Ashley Cole was withdrawn during his side’s 3-1 win over Norwich City yesterday and has been declared as a major doubt for his country’s matches.
The 32-year-old left-back has been one of the first names on the team sheet for England over the last 10 years, and with 105 caps he is exactly the sort of experienced man that Hodgson will not want to lose for vital matches such as the ones coming up.
But the news of Cole’s injury may come as a benefit to one of the Premier League’s top attacking full-backs. Everton star man Leighton Baines has been in exceptional form over the last two seasons and has begun the current campaign in the same vein.
The 28-year-old - who was linked with a move to Premier League Champions Manchester United during the summer - has had to wait patiently behind Cole in the left-back queue. Baines’s attacking presence for Everton last season resulted in the defender bagging seven goals, and he scored two fabulous free-kicks against West Ham last week.
If England lose Cole then Baines is a ready made replacement. Hodgson will be able to capitalise on this bittersweet situation by allowing the Everton man to utilise his abilities on set pieces and corners.
England’s previous 2014 qualification matches against Poland and Montenegro both resulted in 1-1 draws. These scorelines will not be acceptable at Wembley this week, meaning Hodgson will have to prepare tactics that will provide additional scoring opportunities for his side.
Losing Cole is in no way ideal, but with Baines regarded highly by England fans, it could be a chance for the Evertonian to prove that he has something extra to bring to the England setup and guide his nation to Brazil 2014.