Leighton Baines Must Start at World Cup, but Ross Barkley Better off the Bench

Matt Cheetham@@Matt_CheethamCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2014

Everton will provide England with key personnel at World Cup 2014.

Phil Jagielka seems assured of a place in defence while Leighton Baines is fighting Ashley Cole to start at left-back.

Elsewhere, many are championing Ross Barkley's starting potential, while Gareth Barry is perhaps an outsider to make the cut.

In terms of starters, it's essential Baines joins his club captain in Roy Hodgson's defence. Including Barkley, however, is much more of a borderline decision.

The Everton youngster has received incredible hype during his first season as a Premier League regular.

Up until January, he was frequently seen surging past opponents, igniting lightning-fast breaks and launching blistering attempts on goal. Very quickly, his reputation soared.

Injury has slowed his recent progress, although he was once again impressive during Everton's FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

His arrival has led to England recognition, yet despite this rapid rise, using Barkley as a starter in Brazil would be too much of a risk.

Watching the 20-year-old, it's easy to become blinded by his pace, strength and ability to pass opponents, particularly in condensed highlights.

Off the ball, his often inconsistent discipline caused David Moyes to limit his playing time last season.

While Barkley may continually dance through tight situations, his end product is still highly erratic—as would be expected of such a young prospect.

He may lead his team in successful dribbles but he's also been dispossessed more than any Everton player this season. Surprisingly, he's also yet to register a Premier League assist and has contributed just five accurate crosses.

Comparing some of his statistics to other England hopefuls, his lack of end product is further emphasised.

Premier League Statistics
Chances Created (per 90)21 (1.1)54 (2.0)50 (1.8)
Shots/Shooting Accuracy61/34%52/59%45/41%
Dispossessed (per 90)45 (2.4)68 (2.6)19 (0.7)
Successful Dribbles (per 90)59 (3.2)56 (2.1)18 (0.6)
WhoScored.com, Squawka.com

On the biggest stage of them all, in Brazil, England will need greater consistency, at least from the start.

Despite the glittering potential, it's also important to remember how Barkley hasn't always kept his place for his club this season. Leon Osman is often preferred and the youngster's played more than 45 minutes just three times in his last seven appearances.

He thrives on confidence and needs freedom from his manager to express himself, something England will not be able to provide him. Relying on him too heavily could easily damage the player, while harming his country's prospects.

Barkley is one of the most talented youngsters in the game but at this primitive stage of his careerstill just 22 Premier League startshis impact should be as an explosive option from the bench.

As for Baines, his case is far more distinguished.

Ashley Cole no longer demands a place in Chelsea's XI, sidelined by a right-back playing on his weaker side. All the while, Baines continues in his influential role at Everton while gradually becoming Hodgson's preferred choice.

His creative production has not matched that of last year, but the Toffees' style has evolved under Roberto Martinez.

Baines is no longer instructed to pepper the penalty area with crosses but to cut-back and work the ball into the box.

As Martinez recently highlighted, he has often made the pass just before the assist this season; although he can still deliver a barrage of chances if required.

Against West Ham, he created seven—the most by an Everton player under Martinez, while England began to rely on his delivery more as he settled into the team.

Baines has also provided more solid contributions at the back this season.

He's currently part of the Premier League's second best defence, with a Cole-less Chelsea the only team to concede fewer goals this season.

At left-back, Hodgson's debate should be about whether or not to include Cole as his back-up, instead of providing valuable experience to the exciting Luke Shaw.

While Barkley's starting potential is far more of a gamble, Baines should already be considered England's No. 3 in Brazil.


Statistics via WhoScored.com


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