5 Reasons Why England Must Start Leighton Baines Ahead of Luke Shaw
One of Roy Hodgson's toughest selection policies at this summer's World Cup will be at left-back, with England possessing two excellent options. Leighton Baines has established himself as arguably the most respected left-back in the Premier League over the past few seasons, while Luke Shaw's emergence since Southampton's promotion to the Premier League in 2012 has seen him lauded as a potential star for years to come.
It's a new situation for England. For years Ashley Cole was a regular—a world-class performer who had everything a modern-day full-back needs. He was quick, strong, athletic, exceptional going forward and sound defensively. However, at 33, he no longer holds down a first-team place at Chelsea, and so it's Baines and Shaw who are now set to do battle.
Here we look at five reasons Hodgson should opt for Baines as his first choice, despite the closeness of the two players in terms of their quality.
1. Baines Has More Experience
Hodgson has picked a relatively young, exciting England squad, a far cry from the selections previous England bosses have made. It's whetted the appetite for the fans, many of whom have accepted England may struggle to impact the latter stages of the tournament but are intrigued by how well some of their young stars will do.
It shows great foresight and demonstrates a commitment to England's future, but experience alongside the young players is needed in Brazil. With the likes of Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley set to feature, and all with limited experience, it would make sense to assemble a back four with good international experience.
Baines has played 22 times for England, which, although not a huge amount, dwarfs Shaw's solitary appearance at international level.
2. Baines Offers a Huge Threat from Set Pieces
International football often comes down to very fine margins. A deflected strike or a costly error can often be the difference in a tight match.
That's why Baines' ability to score free-kicks and deliver excellent set pieces from wide could be invaluable for England this summer. It's become a trademark of his over recent seasons—part of the reason he is so revered—and Hodgson will surely look to utilise it during the tournament.
Many believe him to be the best set-piece taker in England's squad, bringing a much-needed extra dimension to the side.
3. Baines Edges It Going Forward
A prerequisite of being a top-level full-back in the modern game is the ability to attack. For years, Ashley Cole showed everyone how it was done with his phenomenal appetite for getting forward. Full-backs are also like wingers now, and luckily both Shaw and Baines are excellent going forward.
However, one look at this season's Premier League stats from Squawka for the two shows it's Baines who just edges it.
Baines managed five goals, whereas Shaw failed to score one, and in terms of chances created, the Everton man is also out in front. He created 48 chances including four assists, with Shaw creating 33 opportunities for his team-mates, with just one assist.
Baines also has a higher passing accuracy—86 percent to Shaw's 79 percent.
All in all, it seems Baines would have more to offer in an attacking sense than his younger team-mate.
4. Baines Is More Solid Defensively
Again, it's an incredibly tight call, but Baines would be a slightly more secure option defensively at this summer's World Cup.
At 29, Baines has been around a long time, and with that experience comes positional know-how. When he launches forward to support the England attack, he can draw on his previous top-level games and international caps to know how far to commit and remain aware of the dangers behind him.
He would make for a marginally more secure option than Shaw.
5. Baines Deserves It
OK, so this may be more of a sentimental reason than a practical one, but at 29 this may well be Baines' last opportunity to play in a World Cup, and having been overshadowed by Cole for so long, he deserves the chance to grace the highest stage.
Shaw is just 18, and he will get plenty of opportunities if he continues his current rate of development. At the moment, he is just short of what's needed, but very few doubts remain he will go on to be England's first-choice left-back for years to come.