No first-team guarantees for Chelsea's Joe Cole

Coach Carlo Ancelotti insists Joe Cole will be a Chelsea player next season even though he cannot guarantee him regular first-team football.

The Italian coach will leave Cole on the bench for tomorrow's FA Cup fourth-round tie against Preston at Deepdale.

The England midfielder's current contract at Stamford Bridge expires in the summer and talks over a new deal have yet to reach a conclusion.

The main stumbling block is understood to be Cole's desire for regular first-team football as opposed to a massive hike in his salary.

But while Ancelotti insists the player will still be at the club next season, like the rest of his squad, he cannot guarantee the 28-year-old a regular place in the starting line-up.

"No, I cannot guarantee to Joe Cole that he'll play for Chelsea in every game," said Ancelotti. "I cannot guarantee that to any of my players.

"I never guarantee that to my players, even the big players. How can a manager guarantee that to the players? That's impossible.

"I don't have any news on his contract. He will stay at Chelsea next year. I'm 100% clear.

"I don't like to speak about him all the time. He will be in the squad for next year, as I say.

"It's my aim. It's the aim of the club to keep him in the squad because Joe Cole is an important player, a very professional player, he has a lot of quality and is young.

"He is a player of the national team. He is English. For these reasons, we want to keep him in the squad.

"But I want to keep out maybe Joe Cole and Florent Malouda tomorrow. The team will be: Hilario, Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkov, Belletti, Ballack, Lampard, Deco, Anelka and Sturridge.

"I think that we have all the players available to play. Only Ashley Cole is out because he has a problem with his ankle."

But Ancelotti revealed Ghana's Michael Essien will be out for up to six weeks after returning home from the African Nations Cup with a knee injury after the midfielder sustained medial ligament damage in training.

The 27-years-old will miss Chelsea's title showdown with Arsenal and their Champions League last-16 clash with Inter Milan in Italy.

Ancelotti is hoping Essien's knee will respond to treatment but admitted it was bad news.

"He had a tear in his meniscus and has to stay out for four to six weeks. I hope four, but maybe six," confirmed Ancelotti.

"In January, Essien wasn't going to be here anyway because he was at the African Nations Cup. It's not good news, but I think that we will do a good job again."

After Leeds' triumph over Manchester United and Reading's success over Liverpool, Ancelotti is mindful of the threat posed to the holders by Championship side Preston.

The side are now managed by Darren Ferguson, son of Manchester United's Sir Alex, and Ancelotti expects the North End boss to have asked his father for some advice.

"I don't know Darren," added the Italian. "It's a good reason to meet him tomorrow. I think it's possible he'll ask his father about us. Like a father, Alex can give him some advice or opinion about our play. That's normal.

"I don't know Preston very well, but I'm sure they will try to do hard work on the pitch and try to do the best.

"Because the FA Cup is the oldest competition in the world, I think that every team, also the small teams, want to do their best in this competition.

"The FA Cup is a very important competition here. There were strange results in the last round and we don't want to have a strange result in this round. It's an important aim for this season and we have to try to win."

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