The Three Lions might have a dearth of competition or talent in various positions in their world cup squad, but Left Back is definitely not one of them. In Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Kieran Gibbs , Roy Hodgson is seriously spoilt for choice . He will have a tough decision to make when it comes to dropping one of the three for the final squad he takes to the home of football for the World Cup next year.

Kieran_Gibbs_ArsenalOver the last few months, Kieran Gibbs has been pushing for his inclusion in the squad of twenty-three strongly with the England manager. Besides the strong performances that he has been displaying every week with Arsenal, there are a few other things that are working in his favour as well.

The Arsenal academy product is finally having a season, which is not disrupted by injuries and has been stringing together a bunch of solid performances since the start of the season. In total contrast, the other 2 competitors for the same spot have been struggling for a lack of form or from a long-term injury during a hectic part of the season.

The Curious Case of Ashley Cole

The return of the special one hasnai??i??t really been special for Ashley Cole, as his old relationship with Jose seems to no longer stand him in good stead. After a mixed start to the season, Cole suffered a rib injury in early October and missed the international friendlies in October. While he did make a brief re-appearance in the Chelsea team, a poor show in the Newcastle defeat and a further recurrence of the injury has left Cole on the sidelines for now.

Over the month of November, Mourinho has chosen to start a conventional right back, Azpilicueta ahead of Cole in the Chelsea line-up. In a world cup year, sitting out on the bench is never really the best thing. Cole must be getting frustrated like many others on the Chelsea bench (refer Juan Mata) for the extremely harsh treatment being meted out to him by the coach.

Mourinho has issued an open challenge to Cole asking him to come back to the top of his game and claim his place back in the squad. It remains to be seen whether Cole can provide an emphatic reply to that challenge (not yet at least) or will choose to move to easier (or more profitable!) grounds in the January transfer window.

Baines and his bane

For a man who is always in form and continues to put in outstanding performances every week in an Everton jersey, a grand total of 22 appearances for the 3 lions is indeed unfortunate for Leighton Baines. This seemed to be his year, as Cole was finally a showing a drop in his form and the clamor for Baines to become Hodgsonai??i??s starting choice was increasing with every solid performance he continued to display in the premiership.

Just when he could make a really convincing case for himself and win the argument, his bad luck seemed to catch up with him. Midway through a cracking Merseyside derby, Baines had to be taken out due to an injury, which has now been diagnosed as a toe injury.

Any player would welcome speculation linking them with a move to the Premiership champions, Manchester United. But for Baines, this year might prove to be a very tough season to make the switch. Moving from the comforts of Everton to Manchester United and to compete with the experienced French left-back, Patrice Evra, might prove to be a killer blow to his World Cup ambitions if he fails to impress post this move (if it happens). With an unknown return date and a possible return at a new club, it really remains to be seen if Baines can come back in the same rich vein of form and continue on the strong challenge he poses to Coleai??i??s starting spot in the England line-up.

Gibbs making the right noises

Two seasons after becoming the preferred starting left back for Arsenal, Gibbs is finally having a season free from long-term injuries. Gibbs had started every game Arsenal in the premiership till December, when he got a much-deserved rest against Hull. This season seems to be an answer to those critics who doubted his abilities to grow beyond the promise, as his defensive positioning and impact on the game has been continuously growing.

As a part of an outstanding defensive unit at Arsenal, Gibbs has managed to put in a few silent performances to string together a good number of clean sheets this season. The heart-warming part to notice is that unlike before, the defensive mistakes seem to be getting out of the youngsterai??i??s game slowly.

Roy Hodgson might also be inclined to note that Gibbs has been keeping out Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal out of the Arsenal line-up every week. Hodgson will definitely value the fact that Gibbs does enough on the training ground to convince Arsene Wenger to place his trust in the youngster ahead of the highly experienced Monreal.

Another thing that plays into Gibbsai??i??s favour is that he plays week in and week out with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, two other seemingly promising talents for the England squad. If Hodgson does intend to deploy Jack Wilshere on the left side of the England mid-field, the understanding and camaraderie that Gibbs shares with fellow gunner Wilshere should play some part in his decision making process.

The Number Game

Of course, no conclusions can be drawn based on arguments alone, a look at the song that the numbers sing.

gibbs

Ashley Coleai??i??s so-called struggle this year is not just a myth, as the numbers do suggest that he is falling behind in almost every aspect of the game. Baines though remains quite consistent with his performances so far, contributing significantly in the offensive part of the game as well. Not doing too much wrong, Baines is giving Roy Hodgson enough reason to doubt Ashley Coleai??i??s starting spot in the line-up. If not for his injury, Baines might have made a very strong case for a starting spot in the line-up by now.

In Gibbsai??i??s case, it is the balance in his game that reflects in these numbers. The better positioning skill that Gibbs has developed seems to be evident from the high number of interceptions and clearances that he has made this season, in comparison with the other two experienced left-backs. An evident cause of concern is his tendency to concede the foul, fortunately for him though, none costing him a game or a goal yet.

Going purely by the numbers though, this seems to have come at the cost of attacking part of his game. While not seemingly evident, his overlaps and runs always seem to be a cause for worry for the defense and maybe the numbers arenai??i??t painting the right picture in this case.

The tough choice

Picking both Cole and Baines on the back of their experience is the easier choice for any manager. Hodgson will have to consider the possibility that this will leave him going into the world-cup with two left-backs, both of whom might be struggling to get consistent game time every week. Also, asking both of them to compete against each other for a starting spot might just catch the loser unprepared when it comes down to playing a crunch game if an injury props up.

Gibbs on the other hand is prepared to be the understudy and knows quite well the role he is expected to play in the team. Injuries not playing spoilsport, Gibbs will gain some valuable experience from the trip to Brazil if picked. Without any doubt this will leave him in better stead for the next tournament in 2018, when in all possibility he will hope to be Englandai??i??s first choice left back.

The argument never really is for Hodgson to hand-over the starting spot to Gibbs, at least not yet. On the back of this seasons performances so far, the seeming slump in form and an injury to the other contenders to the left back spot, Hodgson must seriously consider taking Gibbs to Brazil as the understudy to whichever experienced professional he picks.

Choosing to go with the younger Gibbs might seem to be a gamble, but for a second-choice left back, this might actually be the more intelligent choice.

Navin Madhavan

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