When Fabio Capello sits down to name his final squad for the World Cup it looks like the decision as to who will be the back up left-back will come down to choosing either Everton’s Leighton Baines or Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock. First choice left-back Ashley Cole looks as if he will make it in the nick of time therefore Capello looks like he will have a selection headache- rather than take both of them to South Africa. The dearth of talent in that position has been highlighted by talk that England could rely on Gareth Barry, James Milner or Joleon Lescott to fill in.
Of course the credentials of both Baines and Warnock are impressive because of the services they have provided their respective clubs this season. One, or both of them, may never have been in this situation had it not been for Wayne Bridge, normally seen as England’s second choice left-back, choosing to make himself unavailable for World Cup selection because of the well documented revelations of John Terry’s alleged affair with Bridge’s ex-girlfriend. The decision of Bridge has allowed Baines and Warnock to establish themselves, and it seems that their selection will go right down to the wire. Capello may give a better indication of who leads that specific race when he decides who will start in the friendly against Egypt at Wembley.
When it comes to assessing both Baines and Warnock then it is clear that both are different types of full-backs. A mixture of both their strengths creates the ideal full-back; something that Ashley Cole can now be considered, because Warnock plays the game in a more physical style than Baines, and due to Aston Villa’s defensive record this season Warnock is proving to be astute on the defensive side. Both of them have decent pace and a sweet left foot, but Baines’s attacking qualities have shone through at Everton this season where he epitomises the way in which a left-back should support the winger in front of him and he delivers quality crosses. One thing that will favour Baines is the fact that his set-piece deliveries are influential in Everton’s goal scoring chances. He may be down the pecking order for that in terms of England’s free-kick takers but all angles should be covered and he may be required in this respect at some stage.
Fabio Capello is a man who keeps his cards close to his chest so his previous selections of Warnock and Baines will not give any more clues as to who his favourite. Warnock has previously only played six minutes in the friendly game at Trinidad although has been on the bench before. Baines has yet to win a senior England cap but has had the chance to train with the other players when he was called up almost a year ago. Obviously both players have never played tournament football at senior level but followers of the England U21 team will recall how Baines was in the side during the qualification for the European Championships in 2007. The World Cup is a massive step up from that but his experience at a young age could come in handy.
As well as the strengths the two candidates have shown this season, Capello, without question, will be looking to see who he deems to be the weaker of the two. The coincidence is that both Aston Villa and Everton are aiming for Europa League qualification, or in Villa’s case the possibility of finishing fourth is just about within reach, so both teams definitely have a lot to play for. This will determine which of the two players can handle that specific pressure and if their performances can be sustained as we enter the business end of the season. Something that can be drawn from that is how Warnock looked quite shaky when he was trying to deal with Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia in Sunday’s Carling Cup final. However, he may well get the opportunity to put that right should Aston Villa reach the FA Cup final.
Between now and the end of the season both left-backs will appear in crucial matches for their respective clubs. Knowing that their position is now a key one for England this summer, along with the possibility that Capello could potentially attend a lot of their fixtures, should mean that both have a real chance to prove themselves as the left-back race enters its final stretch.
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