The Monday night fixture between two of the wealthiest teams in England was a battle won squarely by Chelsea, with manager Jose Mourinho trumping his counterpart.
One highlight was the balance of the Chelsea first eleven, every player seemed to know his remit and worked tirelessly to live up to the manager’s expectation of themselves. There was a feeling that this is the best eleven for the team and unless something goes off, this will be the primary starting lineup.
In the backdrop, however, things were looking not so bright. Every time the cameras focused on the Chelsea bench, there was the figure of Ashley Cole wrapped in winter wear and looking ruefully at the proceedings. Cole, who is widely regarded as the only world class footballer England has in his natural position (Rooney has fallen in pundits regard of late), is now playing second fiddle to the 24-year old Cesar Azpilicueta who himself is a natural right full back. For a player who has made 30 appearances in the Premier League for Chelsea on average (212 appearances from 2006 to 2013) till last season, it must be quite the fall from grace in 2013-14 where he has made only 13 appearances out of 24 (just a touch above 50%).
It is difficult to pin down a particular reason to account for Cole missing out on first team football this season.
Mourinho is known to be a manager who likes the feel of things and Azpilicueta’s run of games while Cole was injured might have led him to persist with the Spaniard. One probable reason could be the demarcation of responsibility on the left flank that Mourinho has thought of, with Eden Hazard going all out on attack and Azpilicueta staying deep to protect the defence. Cole has a natural tendency to stride further up field in support of the attack and this can sometimes open up the defence to quick counter attacks.
Yet again, this is a hypothesis and there is no specific area where Cole has been poor this season. Chelsea were poor in defending corners and Free Kicks in the initial half of the season, so Mourinho might just want to stick to his back four of present to maintain a consistency which is crucial for a well-coordinated defence.
The twin problems that the 33-year-old left-back is facing right now, apart from his lack of playing time, are contract worries and a spot in the starting eleven for England in the World Cup this summer. While Cole is in the final 5 months of his 1-year Chelsea contract signed in 2013, there have been no talks so far of contract extension.
Chelseas also has two natural left backs in Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Van Aanholt who would be surely be trying to impress Mourinho for a starting berth in the next season. Lack of game time also implies that the England manager Roy Hodgson might consider Leighton Baines of Everton as his first choice left back for the World Cup.
Ashley Cole and Philip Lahm were considered to be the two best left backs in World football till last year. While the latter has had a superb transition to a holding midfield role for Europe’s strongest club on form Bayern Munich, the former is now reduced to a squad player fighting to retain his spot for club and country.
What difference half a season makes!
Do you think Ashley Cole future is over at Chelsea?