Many big decisions await Fabio Capello but nowhere is the competition looking tighter in the England team than at left-back. Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge are the men in contention for the left-back position, yet it is the England regular Cole who is concerned that he will not even be in Chelsea's squad to face Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Cole v Bridge was once a foregone conclusion at club and country level but not any longer. In the Carling Cup semi-final on Tuesday, Capello was at Stamford Bridge to watch another fine performance from Bridge at left-back against Everton while Cole was sat in the stands for the new England manager's first visit to Chelsea. Cole is understood to be philosophical about his situation, but concerned that he will not be in the side to face Spurs in the Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.
The match has been moved from Monday and is the obvious game for Capello to watch. Last weekend, Cole, 27, was made captain of a weakened Chelsea team who beat Queen's Park Rangers in the FA Cup third round but was stripped of the privilege when Didier Drogba came on after the hour. Now for the first time since he joined Chelsea in the summer of 2006, Cole can no longer consider himself an automatic first choice.
Having injured his ankle in England's Euro 2008 win over Russia on 14 October, Cole did not play again until late November and since then he has found that he has shared the left-back spot with Bridge. On Tuesday night, Chelsea's manager, Avram Grant, reacted angrily to the suggestion that Cole had been dropped, saying instead he preferred to "rotate" the pair. There is no doubt however, that Bridge's star is on the rise.
Bridge, 27, who has 27 England caps to Cole's 61, had his pre-season interrupted when he was diagnosed as requiring a pelvis operation in the summer, but since returning in November he has been in and around the side. Grant has often preferred Cole to Bridge for games against the bigger sides – the former was picked to face Arsenal last month – so Saturday's game is regarded as key to how the Chelsea manager rates the pair.
Grant's public snub to Cole when he stripped him of the captaincy is a sign that he may have his doubts about the defender. It also raises wider questions about Cole's form since joining last season, during which time he has not reached the heights he once achieved for Arsenal and, on occasions, England. Grant is determined to keep his players guessing – the new Chelsea manager ordinarily announces his team only one hour before kick-off.
Chelsea's pursuit of Nicolas Anelka is still plagued by their failure to agree a fee with Bolton Wanderers. The west London club have told their Lancashire counterparts that they may well look elsewhere if no agreement can be reached before the weekend. Chelsea have offered £11m for the 28-year-old while Bolton are continuing to hold out for £15m.
Anelka is understood to have seen the Bolton manager, Gary Megson, again yesterday to tell him that he wishes to leave the club. Bolton are still hopeful that another club, like Manchester City, will force the bidding higher, but it appears that they will be faced with a take-it-or-leave-it offer from Chelsea, who are convinced that no other club are serious about Anelka.
Grant's need for a striker was obvious in Tuesday's victory over Everton when even Shaun Wright-Phillips proved a more effective targetman in attack for Chelsea than Claudio Pizarro. Chelsea have told Bolton that they have other names on their list and will move on if a deal for Anelka cannot be resolved soon.
The Liverpool defender Daniel Agger will make his return from injury in today's reserve match at Blackburn Rovers. The 23-year-old has been out of action since September after breaking his metatarsal, leaving his manager, Rafael Benitez, perilously short of cover at the heart of his defence. Benitez said yesterday: "For us it's like signing a new player. He is very close to starting a game for the first team.
"The injury he had wasn't a bad one but we had problems also with Xabi Alonso, so we needed to be careful and we have missed him. We will be much better in the second part of this season."Reuse content