So it goes a little something like this: Ashley Cole is a far cry from what he was once. What he was, of course, was the world's best left back, which does mean that he's got a long ways to decline still to be absolutely useless. But he had started his journey down from said pinnacle some years ago and there's hardly a guarantee at this point that the club will give him another one-year contract extension like last season.
Meanwhile, Ryan Bertrand, who has been around the club for about a decade now and is entering his prime years at 24, is still a bit of an unknown quantity. He made headlines when Di Matteo started him as a defensive winger in the Champions League final but he followed that up with a mild, inconsistent, ineffective season as backup for both the defensive and attacking positions on the left flank. He's done better in limited action (three starts) so far this season, but then picked up a rather ill-timed injury just when Mourinho got fed up with Cole's efforts.
Enter Azpilicueta. The man whom we just call "Dave" had been limited to late-game substitutions and second-rate League Cup minutes, but then he decided to channel the spirit of Bosingwa and impressed as a left back instead (away to Schalke), resulting in Mourinho singling him out for special praise in his subsequent match programme notes.
I love these players who play where the team need them, when the coach wants, whether it is for 90 minutes or coming from the bench for one minute. For them it is the team first, the team second, and the team third - and finally they think about themselves. They train hard every day, they are self-motivated, but they are also pushing others in the same direction.-José Mourinho; source: Matchday Programme Note (27/10/13 - Man City)
In the two weeks since, all Azpilicueta has done was score against Arsenal in the League Cup and then put together back-to-back excellent performances as a left back once again.
"I decided for Azpilicueta to play against Schalke [home] and he was fantastic."
"On Saturday he was very good again."
-José Mourinho; source: Mirror
Mourinho might still claim that A.Cole's place in the team is not in trouble, but then in what seems like a contradiction, he also claims that Ashley "has to fight" for his place. Well, which one is it then? Is it his position to lose or is it his position to win (back)?
"Ashley is a top professional, he is a fighter. He has to work hard, to fight hard because the place (in the team) is his place."
"Of course it is not Azpilicueta's best position, and it is not a position where Ashley can think that he is in trouble now."
"No, he has to just work and fight and the position is there waiting for him, no problem."
-José Mourinho; source: Mirror
Sounds like more of the latter to me. If Cole needs to fight for the position, then, by definition, it cannot be his simply by default. At the same time, Azpilicueta is more than happy to keep starting at left back if needed.
"Every time I have more minutes I feel better. Provided I can play and be useful to the team I’d be delighted to stay on the left for the whole season."
-Cesar Azpilicueta; source: Daily Star
At this very moment, it sure sounds like Azpilicueta is first choice as a left back. But while Mourinho may be delighted as well, he also knows that Azpilicueta's best position is in fact right back. So could he be impressed enough by the fantastic Spaniard to eschew the flexibility and aerial presence provided by Ivanovic?
When either Bertrand or Cole are deemed fit and able to start again, I have a sneaking suspicion that he just might.