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Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

World Cup scouting: left-backs

By Lee Dixon
BBC Sport pundit

With 10 weeks to go until coach Fabio Capello names his 35-man preliminary squad for the World Cup and 100 days until the tournament begins in South Africa, I would say England are in a bit of turmoil.

After a superb qualifying campaign, the Italian has some huge decisions to make as he tries to make up for the disappointment of England's poor showing under Steve McClaren.

606: DEBATE
Dixon's line-up for England v Egypt
Lee Dixon

The situation has not been helped by the Wayne Bridge-John Terry story. I still don't think it has been resolved completely, and how it impacts on the squad is still open to question.

It needs to be sorted before the World Cup starts.

On the pitch there are problems, too. Glancing at the England defence right now we don't have a goalkeeper who stands out as the number one choice.

There are also concerns at left-back, centre-half and right-back.

Ashley Cole is injured, Bridge has pulled out, there are concerns about Terry, while Rio Ferdinand has back problems and Glen Johnson is also crocked.

If you want a squad to mount a challenge to win the World Cup, you have to be sound defensively and then build on that. At the moment, it's difficult to pick an England back four and a goalkeeper with any kind of conviction.

That's where I come in. Every week until 16 May, when Capello is due to name his initial squad for South Africa, I'll be assessing the players in contention for each position.

First off, the left-backs...

THE CONTENDERS

Should Ashley Cole recover from his broken ankle, then the left-back position is his. I also believe Bridge might change his mind about playing in South Africa after telling Capello he did not want to be picked in the wake of the Terry saga.

But if either of these two do not make it to South Africa, then the most likely contenders for the role are Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines, who have both been named in Capello's squad to face Egypt on Wednesday.

Wayne Bridge
Maybe he should have waited a bit longer before making the decision about the World Cup but if he feels that strongly then you have to respect that

Lee Dixon on Bridge's decision

Warnock and Baines are similar in lots of ways. To me, they are more like traditional full-backs.

When I was playing, I almost saw myself as playing second fiddle to everyone else in the squad. We were certainly the lowest paid players in the team.

Full-backs just got on with their jobs and they weren't really noticed unless they did something spectacular. I would put Warnock and Baines in this bracket.

These days the full-back role is a bit more of a glamour position thanks to the likes of Cole and the great Brazilians Cafu and Roberto Carlos. But Baines and Warnock are more old school in the sense they don't stand out that much. They just get on with their jobs, which is primarily defending.

Other people have mentioned centre-half Joleon Lescott as a potential left-back, but I don't like him there. I am biased but I think full-back is a specialised position. Centre-halves might play there in the Premier League and get away with it, but I think at international level they get found out.

As for the option of Gareth Barry, he has not played left-back for a few years now and I think he is too important to England's midfield.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Warnock and Baines are both equally good going forward, while defensively they are sound.

I watched Warnock a few times when he was at Liverpool and thought he was going to be a really good player, but then he didn't seem to push on to become a top-class full-back. While he was also good at Blackburn, I've also seen him have a few shockers. There is an element of uncertainty to his play sometimes.

Although he had a largely solid game against Manchester United in the Carling Cup final on Sunday, as a full-back your main two jobs are to defend the goal and stop people crossing the ball.

WARNOCK AND BAINES THIS SEASON
Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines
28 - Club appearances - 37
9 ----- Clean sheets ---- 9
1 -------- Goals --------- 2
1 ---- England caps ---- 0

You might play 90 minutes and be brilliant but if, like Antonio Valencia did at Wembley, the winger gets two crosses in and the opposition score from one and hit the post with the other, then people will criticise you.

Wayne Rooney's winner might not even have been his fault because he got dragged somewhere else, but if I see a winger get a cross in I will ask what more the full-back could have done to stop that happening.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Baines was pretty quiet in Everton's 2-1 defeat by Spurs.

He was caught a little bit out of position for Tottenham's first goal. He was too far forward as the ball got played over the top, although the two centre-halves were also at fault.

With only 11 minutes into the game, you think he would have been covering a little bit more. Away from home, he probably needs to be a bit more defence-minded at that moment of the game.

However, the one area where Baines has got an advantage over Warnock is in his ability with the dead ball.

Baines takes corners and whips in a great free-kick for Everton, although he's not going to be doing any of that for England because players like Gerrard will be taking the set-pieces.

HOW DO THEY MAKE AN IMPRESSION ON CAPELLO?

Both Warnock and Baines should be looking at the summer with real anticipation. They must give everything they've got because they are never going to get a better opportunity to get in the squad.

You look at the England side and it's weaker going forward if Cole doesn't play. So if Warnock and Baines want to get on the plane to South Africa, they need to add aspects to their game.

Cole is a really fit lad, he can get up and down the pitch all day long. But I've also seen him do very good man-to-man jobs against Brazil and Argentina.

The importance of getting forward is also underlined by Gerrard's role in the England team as he tends to move inside and support Rooney from more central positions.

I'm not saying Warnock and Baines aren't good going forward but they would need to prove they can do this at international level when given the chance.

VERDICT

I would play Warnock against Egypt simply because he is probably slightly ahead of Baines in the pecking order. If Warnock had 15 or 20 caps, you might start with Baines to give him a bit of experience, but Warnock has only one cap himself.

Capello has got some time to make up his mind on who is going to fill in for Bridge. You never know, both of them might end up going to South Africa if Cole is not fit.

The Italian certainly has some huge decisions to make and the left-back role is one of the most complicated.

Lee Dixon was talking to Alistair Magowan



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see also
Rooney asks fans not to boo Terry
01 Mar 10 |  Football
Shawcross named in England squad
27 Feb 10 |  Football
Capello hopes for Bridge rethink
26 Feb 10 |  Football
Aston Villa 1-2 Man Utd
28 Feb 10 |  League Cup
Tottenham 2-1 Everton
28 Feb 10 |  Premier League


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