Chelsea’s Ashley Cole still the natural pick for Roy Hodgson 0

It’s not fair to judge Leighton Baines’ England-suitability purely on last night’s game with Chile, because he was one of several players who badly under-performed - but still, nothing he’s done for the national team recently is reason to believe that Ashley Cole’s position is under threat.

I think of some of narrative around this situation is based on the natural dislike for Cole - we want someone like Baines to take his place, because outside of Stamford Bridge he doesn’t have a lot fans. What that has led to, is a rather contrived over-emphasis on Baines’ free-kick and crossing ability, and general contribution in the offensive third.

Sure, of the two, Baines is better in the opponent’s half, but his inclusion on that basis alone would be to ignore a fundamental issue with his game - he is just not an international class defender. England always look vulnerable against capable teams, but that’s accentuated when Cole doesn’t play - his age is almost an irrelevance, because he’s still an outstanding defensive full-back and he remains capable of nullifying some of the best players in the world in a one-on-one situation.

When they go to Brazil next Summer, that’s what England need - because, like or not, the team’s progress in the World Cup will be determined by how secure they are defensively.

Baines’ strengths are more eye-catching, and his set-piece ability produces a very watchable highlight-reel, but as a pure full-back he’s still not that close to Cole - and Roy Hodgson has to base his team selection on what a player does over 90 minutes, not just what he might do should he get into certain attacking situations.

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