Jose Mourinho has announced Cesar Azpilicueta will begin his third game in a row at left-back in today’s visit to Upton Park.
League action resumes after a break and the manager has also reported Ashley Cole is part of the squad to face West Ham despite coming off during England’s defeat by Germany due to rib pain. However the decision on which full-back starts Chelsea’s first game for a fortnight is a clear one given the relative condition of the two players.
‘I don’t have a dilemma, I play Azpilicueta because he is stronger at this moment and he is physically at the top of his game,’ says Mourinho, who first fielded the more accustomed right-back on the left flank away against Schalke last month, before doing the same in the home game against the German side and in the last outing versus West Brom. Cole’s difficulty stems from an injury suffered at Norwich at the start of October. It ruled him out for two games before he returned against Man City.
‘Ashley is not injured, he feels a pain,’ is the latest update from Mourinho.
‘He hasn’t a broken rib anymore, he is in condition to play football but he has a little bit of pain and it is a limitation. Can he sprint 100 per cent? Maybe not. Can he jump 100 per? Maybe not, but he is not injured, he is in the minimum condition to play.
‘I was speaking in the last few weeks with a top tennis player and he was telling me it is very rare during the season he plays one game 100 per cent. He always has something. One day it is the finger, one day it is the back, another day it is the ankle, he is never feeling absolutely top by the physical point of view.
‘With football players that is the same many, many times and at this moment Ashley can cope with the pain and he is ready to play, but he has a little limitation.’
Mourinho firmly dismisses any suggestion that picking Azpilicueta over Cole is meant as a gee-up to the England left-back.
‘Ashley is a top professional, he doesn’t need messages,’ says the manager.
‘He just needs time to recover 100 per cent to put himself at the top of his game so he can fight to have his position back. Ashley is not the kind of personality you need to leave on the bench to send a message to him, to make him realise he has to give more. No way, he doesn’t need that.’
This weekend’s opponents have recently played with no recognised centre-forward in their starting line-up. Andy Carroll is out injured and with none of the Hammers’ out-and-out strikers having found the net this season, they have relied on midfielders for goals.
For Mourinho and his players, it is not a case of predicting whether Sam Allardyce will opt for a similar strategy today. What is important is to be ready for all likely eventualities.
‘West Ham haven’t always played that same way,’ points out Mourinho.
‘We know they can play more related to their earlier philosophy which is a much more direct approach, a tall striker as a target man, the long ball, an intense fight for the second ball and lots of situations around the box.
‘We have to be prepared for the different approaches Sam can bring to the game and I am prepared for them to play with Carlton Cole as a target man, and I am also prepared for them to play without that target man and to play Kevin Nolan or somebody else coming from the midfield. It will be difficult either way.’
– Join Jason Cundy, Graham Stuart and Tommy Langley live in the Chelsea TV studio as they bring the latest team news and exclusive player interviews ahead of the game. The programme begins at 4.30pm.