This time (or thereabouts) two seasons ago, Ashley Cole was about to make the perfect quip about German teams and penalty kick shootouts. This time (or thereabouts) last season, Ashley Cole was about to put make a career-high 51st appearance with a winning start in the Europa League final. This time (or thereabouts) two weeks ago, Ashley Cole was about to finish growing his godly beard, while he counted sheep to the rhythm of the water drums, on the bench.
And then came the call. Branislav Ivanovic - Chelsea's leader in minutes for the season - was shown a yellow card against PSG, ruling him out for the first leg of the Champions League semifinal. Though as a sign of just how far Cole's stock had fallen, many were guessing that David Luiz might be given the start at full back instead.
Before today, Cole had exactly twelve minutes of match action to his name over the last three months. His last start came at the end of January, in a 1-0 win over Stoke City in the FA Cup. Even if he plays in all remaining and potentially remaining matches for Chelsea this season, he will finish the year with the least amount of appearances in a non-injury-shortened season since 1999-2000. His contract will not be renewed, probably.
None of that should be surprising. Once the world's best, Cole had been steadily declining for a few years. But until Jose Mourinho converted Cesar Azpilicueta to a two-sided full back, we did not have a better option. The 2-0 loss away to Newcastle United at the start of October seemed to be the final straw. I guess what I'm trying to say is that few of us expected Cole to pull off a masterclass against Atlético.
"Everybody did a great job. [...] For Ashley to play this type of game after so many games not playing, was amazing. [...] Every player gave everything and I'm obviously very pleased."
-Jose Mourinho; source: Chelsea FC
Maybe Mourinho did. Maybe he didn't. All I know is that Ashley Cole is clearly not dead. Yet. In fact, he may still be good, even. Outside of some sluggish play in the opening minutes as an unwise gamble in the final minute to try to stop an Atlético counter attack, this was as vintage of a Cole defensive display as we've seen in a long, long time. Which should bode well for whoever offers him a contract for next season and for the England international's World Cup prospects. And for us, as we limp to the finish line while picking up more injuries than points lately.
Ryan Bertrand (@ryanbertrand3) April 22, 2014
Does bad spelling fall under form or class, Ryan?