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Time for football to do talking

When the noted author Ashley Cole, who sadly needs to play football to supplement his meagre earnings from the publishing industry, entitled his book 'My Defence', it's safe to assume he wasn't thinking of John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Khalid Boulahrouz.

Now he is reliant on them. After Cole's heavily-publicised attempts at explanations for his conduct at Arsenal, his best chance of rehabilitation and rebuilding a tainted reputation lies in the Chelsea back four.

The warped sense of reality that prompted his exit from Arsenal needs to be banished from the public consciousness along with the unwanted, but all too apt, nickname 'Cashley', an instant reminder of his excessive pay packet and dubious literary talents, rather than his considerable footballing attributes.

England's underachievement in Germany rather dented his claims to be the world's best left back. Nonetheless, significantly younger than alternative candidates like the Italians Fabio Grosso and Gianluca Zambrotta, he could still be the most valuable. Chelsea deemed him worth £5 million as well as William Gallas, himself among the finest defenders available.

And he appears of such significance that Chelsea have made subtle alterations to accommodate his speed and stamina. In his full debut against Werder Bremen, it was notable how often, and how early in a move, Chelsea switched play to find their overlapping left back. Frank Lampard has been spotted playing 30-yard balls forward to Cole, a reversal of the usual roles of goalscoring midfielder and defender.

With a fondness for the touchline, Cole has served as an antidote to the overcrowding in the centre of the pitch caused by Jose Mourinho's current attempts to solve the conundrum of how to pair Lampard and Michael Ballack.

With Chelsea's brace of attacking midfielders competing to take up the positions ahead of Claude Makelele in the centre of the pitch, congestion is a consequence. Cole, offering an outlet on the left flank, relieves that, just as the departed Damien Duff did before him.

The comparison with a winger is not accidental, for Cole, as an attacking full back, threatens to render them obsolete at Stamford Bridge. Or, at the very least, unnecessary.

In this respect, his precursor was Roberto Carlos who, at his turbo-charged peak, covered the entirety of the left flank for Real Madrid. It enabled Zinedine Zidane, supposedly the left-sided midfielder, to wander infield. Mourinho's essential pragmatism means his disdain for the ill-fated galactico project is unlikely to stop him copying that tactic; whether Cole's phenomenal engine (no, not his agent's Bentley) bodes ill for Arjen Robben and Joe Cole remains to be seen. In the short term, Ballack's suspension will grant one a reprieve.

Wayne Bridge, dropped after producing some of his finest form for Chelsea in the opening weeks of the season, has definitely been harmed by Cole's arrival, but the beneficiary could be Boulahrouz.

Like Gallas, the Dutch defender has not made a secret of his preference for playing as a central defender; however, the £6 million signing's first appearances have been on the right.

But when Cole advanced, the three remaining defenders shifted across to form a back three, meaning Boulahrouz was effectively a centre back. And with Michael Essien's forceful presence being deployed on the right of a lopsided midfield diamond, in possession Chelsea's formation can appear 3-5-2, reverting to a back four when they lose the ball.

If Essien and Cole, with their acceleration and appetite for work, have similarities in their approach, the uncompromising Boulahrouz provides a contrast with his fellow newcomer. But each facilitates the inclusion of the other.

Mourinho's facetious suggestion that Cole had grown was a reference to his earlier assertion that the Englishman was not tall enough for his requirements.

Asier del Horno's considerable aerial prowess could not compensate for his other failings, however, and Mourinho's stated need for four players capable of coping with the set-piece barrage the Premiership offers was not resolved.

It is now: with Boulahrouz and Ballack joining Terry, Carvalho and Didier Drogba, he has five. Paulo Ferreira, the shorter right back in Chelsea's squad, may consider himself another victim of that policy; will accusations of heightism now dog his manager?

Ferreira was, however, introduced to cope with Boudewijn Zenden in the closing stages against Liverpool, and the importance of the full back's defensive duties should not be obscured. For Cole, the presence of Jermaine Pennant on the visitors' right wing, and then the need to curb his attacking instincts after Ballack's dismissal, restricted his forward runs.

Nonetheless, he afforded Pennant too much space to swing in late crosses in the direction of Peter Crouch.

The excellence of the Chelsea's defensive record under Mourinho suggests that may not continue.

Alternatively, the champions' rearguard may have been imbued with a new spirit of adventure. Since his goal against Manchester United to clinch the title last year, Ricardo Carvalho has taken to strolling out of defence and heading upfield, perhaps confident of the cover Makelele provides.

Cole comes out of defence with more frequency and greater importance for Chelsea's shape. Should Mourinho persist with his 'wingless wonders' policy, it may contribute to Cole's redemption.

For, if he has the work of two men to do on the left flank, he may even earn his salary, if not the approval of those disillusioned by his whingeing in print.


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