2014 World Cup: England must start with Leighton Baines, says Matt Le Tissier
Leighton Baines must be England's first-choice left-back for the 2014 World Cup, says Matt Le Tissier.
Last Updated: 16/10/13 10:13am
Baines, 28, provided the cross for Wayne Rooney's opener as Roy Hodgson's men overcame Poland 2-0 at Wembley to qualify automatically for next year's competition in Brazil as Group H winners. Captain Steven Gerrard added the second shortly before the final whistle.
Deputising for the injured Ashley Cole, Baines also impressed in Friday's 4-1 victory over Montenegro and former England forward Le Tissier told Soccer Special that he'd now put the 28-year-old ahead of the Chelsea defender in the pecking order.
"We've done well to qualify in the end because we had some moments in the qualifying campaign where we thought 'this is going to be tough' but finally we've got there," said Le Tissier.
"I think that getting to the quarter-finals will be a decent achievement with the squad that we've got. But once you get to those knockout stages, anything can happen.
"The majority [of the team that played against Montenegro and Poland] will start in Brazil. There weren't too many people missing through injury who are going to be considered first-choice.
"The one thing I will say is that Leighton Baines has to be the first-choice left-back. Ashley Cole has been fantastic and he's barely put a foot wrong but I think that Baines offers England a little bit more going forward.
"I think he's improved defensively and while Cole has done nothing wrong, for me Baines is the best left-back in our country right now."
Former England defender Nigel Winterburn agreed that Baines - who scored two free-kicks against West Ham in the Premier League - poses the greater attacking threat of the two, and says Hodgson may have to decide on a game-by-game basis who of the two deserves to start.
"I think Baines has made unbelievable progress over the last two seasons in terms of his defensive ability," said the former Arsenal stalwart. "I'd say that Ashley Cole is the strongest defensively but Baines gives you more going forward.
"If he can produce the defensive play that we saw at times against Poland then he is going to give Roy Hodgson a real problem because he has undoubtedly got great quality, as we saw - particularly in the first half.
"When Danny Welbeck came in off the line, if England switched the play, as they did on occasions, out to that left-hand side Baines was almost playing as the left winger.
"It's now going to be a difficult decision for Roy Hodgson; he's going to have to look at it and he may look at the opposition in the World Cup and say 'do I need someone who is stronger defensively or do I need you to try and take the game to the opposition?'"
Goalkeeper Joe Hart was the only England player to complete every minute of the 10 qualifiers while only two other players were on the pitch for over 600 minutes - Steven Gerrard (670) and Phil Jagielka (630).
Baines played for 568 minutes at left back, significantly more than Cole (315), but the surprise package of the campaign was Tottenham's Andros Townsend, who scored on his debut against Montenegro and struck the woodwork against Poland.
Le Tissier told Soccer Special that the winger's pace not only makes him a constant attacking threat but also a valuable outlet when England are under pressure.
"You cannot point the finger at Roy at all because he's been bold in his team selection," reflected Le Tissier.
"There has been talk in the past of him not selecting the most attacking side but he's been brave with his selections and they've paid off fantastically well and he needs to be given a lot of credit for that.
"Andros Townsend was a good release ball for us. When we were under a little bit of pressure the ball was played out to him and he kept possession and took England forward.
"He chose to stand by Joe Hart - he realised this wasn't the time to go changing his goalkeeper - and Hart was called upon a couple of times, making some crucial saves.
"There were a few hairy moments in the first half when Robert Lewandowski threatened a little bit and he had a couple of chances that a player of his standard will have felt that he could have done better with. But thankfully he didn't and we were able to get the lead before half-time and take all of the pressure off.
"I think Roy has got just about every call right over these last few days for these last two qualifiers and we can start thinking about winning the World Cup now! But seriously, I don't think anybody will be seriously expecting us to go to Brazil and win the World Cup."
skysports.com will bring you the 2014 World Cup draw on December 6th and extensive coverage of the finals when Brazil kick off the tournament on June 12.