Last week’s 1-1 draw in Montenegro means Tuesday's host still lead England by two points in World Cup Qualifier Group H. A strong opening 20 minutes was overshadowed by what was to follow, a lack-lustre and uninspiring 60 minutes.
To individually pick out Ashley Cole as an example of this is harsh, but he was no doubt off par. He was too eager to get forward, and in return, he was often left chasing back and out of position. On the contrary, just days prior to that, Leighton Baines contributed to an 8-0 demolition of San Marino with three assists. A comparison drawn from these two games is quite obviously slightly tarnished by the difference in opponents, however, is it enough to suggest that the left-back position is in a period of transition?
There is no question that both players are two of the finest left-backs in the world. Both are leading figures at their club and have been instrumental in guiding their teams to where they currently are.
Ashley Cole was pivotal in Chelsea's 2011/12 Champions League win, making a goal-line clearance in the 1-0 semi-final win over Barcelona, denying them an away goal.
On 1st December 2012, Cole confirmed himself as a Premier League great by making his 350th appearance for Chelsea. Similarly, on 26 February this year, Cole made his 100th appearance for England against Brazil at Wembley. Surely these landmark achievements suggest that Cole must make way for something new?
Leighton Baines moved from Wigan Athletic to Everton in 2007 for an initial fee of £5m. Since the move he has proved himself to be one of the best all-round defenders in the world.
A repertoire of free-kicks, an unblemished penalty record and the ability to hit a long shot have had football fans up and down the country acknowledging him. In 2010-11 Premier League season Baines played every single minute of Everton's campaign. On the international scene Baines has often been a replacement for Cole, but his superior form for Everton would suggest that, ahead of the more qualifiers and beyond, he deserves the starting berth.
Therefore, in the corner you have one of the most established English legends, and in the other you have one of the most in-form players in the Premier League, who is improving game upon game. His reliable defensive work combined with brilliant attacking bursts must be enough to give him a shout over Cole. It seems for these reasons that Baines' opportunity to make an impact on the international scene is closer than ever.
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