For the majority of Ashley Cole's 12 years playing for the England team, his position has never been in doubt.
But recently, the amazing form of fellow left-back Leighton Baines has given rise to the debate as to who should be England starting left-back. But, few think of the possibility of playing these two defensive stalwarts together to extract maximum benefit for the team. It is this possibility that has been examined in this article.
Even though starting two full-backs together might seem to be a bewildering idea, it has often been used in world football with variable success. Cole's Chelsea famously used him and Ryan Bertrand together in the 2012 Champions League final.
Baines' club Everton has also used the double full-back system occasionally, playing Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman simultaneously down the right side with moderate success. Also, an average Valencia side found their best form last season when they played Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu together.
However, Laurent Blanc's attempt at playing Anthony Reveillere and Mathieu Debuchy together in the Euro 2012 quarterfinal against Spain. Also uninspiring was the Brazil side which played Dani Alves and Maicon through the right.
The primary requirement for the double full-back system to be a success is that both the players used should be good in attack, besides being skilled in the overlap.
Attributes of crossing and the ability to cut inside from the flank are also of great use when using this system. If these criteria are met, this is a technique that could pay rich dividends, with the team being more solid in defence as well as having new ideas in attack.
The main advantage of using the double full-back system is that the team tends to defend from up front, at least on the side where this system is being used. This results in a greater turnover of possession in the attacking third, which helps the attack immensely. Also, on the overlap, the team does not lose their structure, as the player falling back is also basically a defender by trade.
This provides the team with a greater solidity in defence and also gives the fullbacks more of a license to go forward. Also, a defender who can cut in to the centre and has decent link up play, can function as a conventional wide midfielder if the in-game situation so demands.
In Baines and Cole, England possess the two most ideal players to implement this system. With Cole being the nominal defender and Baines the midfielder, England could stand to end their long standing issues with the left side of midfield. With both the players being exceptional defenders, this move could lend greater solidity to a sometimes leaky England defence.
The presence of a player like Baines on the same flank would provide Cole with greater confidence in his forward forays and thereby work to improve the Three Lions attacking game as well. Baines also has the advantage that he has all the attributes to cut it at as a conventional midfielder, with the Everton man having the third highest attempted crosses and second highest number of successful crosses in the league.
He also leads his team in terms of chance creation. Either of these players is too great a talent to be wasted by sitting in the dugout, and manager Roy Hodgson should look to exploit this ace up his sleeve.
With none of England's potential left wingers being able to stamp his authority on the team, the Three Lions boss should evaluate his options. During the last year, Hodgson has used Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain down the right without much success. In this scenario, the manager should at least give this system a try. And if it succeeds, this could well be the one change that could spur the team to glory.
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