Chelsea lose out to Benitez but close in on £24m Cole

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The Independent Football

Chelsea will this week raise their offer for Ashley Cole to between £22m and £24m after they were informed that their alternative left-back target would cost almost as much.

The Premiership champions, who lost the Community Shield 2-1 to Liverpool in Cardiff yesterday, have grown increasingly exasperated with Arsenal in their negotiations over Cole and last Wednesday issued a dismissive statement indicating that they had made a final bid for the 25-year-old.

After that, they contacted Lyon about the France international Eric Abidal. However, Lyon's president, Jean-Michel Aulas, told Chelsea he wanted €30m (£21m) for the 5ft 11in 27-year-old, who can also play at centre-back, but that he would accept a significantly lower offer next year.

Lyon, who last year sold Michael Essien to Chelsea for £24m, are in no hurry to part with Abidal, especially as they are deep in talks over the future of their midfielder Mahmadou Diarra, who looks set to join Real Madrid, although Manchester United have expressed an interest.

Chelsea informed Lyon that they would come back to them this week if they are to make an offer but decided that they would first raise their bid for Cole.

They are now expected to sign the England player, which means they will end up paying substantially more than the £16m they had hoped to secure him for. Another important factor is the central role now being played by Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich, who has involved himself in the most recent negotiations and wants a swift - and positive - resolution.

Cole's arrival will be met with demands from Wayne Bridge to be allowed to leave the club. He could be made to wait until the January transfer window.

Abramovich was in Cardiff yesterday to see another of his signings, Andrei Shevchenko, score his first goal for the club, although it was not enough to prevent the champions losing the Community Shield to Liverpool through strikes by John Arne Riise and Peter Crouch.

After the match there was a continuation of the spat between the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, and Chelsea's Jose Mourinho. Once again, the two men did not shake hands at the final whistle.

Benitez said he had snubbed Mourinho because of his reaction to defeat in last season's FA Cup semi-final. "For me it's not a problem," Benitez said. "After the FA Cup he decided not to shake hands. This time he was behind me." Mourinho said he had stayed on the pitch but had been ignored.

He also admitted that Liverpool were deserved winners yesterday, but said he was unconcerned as it was a one-off game and "the competition is 10 months".

"I could feel when there was space for individual challenges and 25-metre runs that they were much stronger than us," Mourinho said. "It was quite difficult."

He said this was due to a shorter pre-season training programme. "We have to work. That's what I keep saying. I read a few papers where some of your super specialists laugh when I say we need time. They are funny people and like to write funny things."

Mourinho also defended his recent decision to reduce the size of his squad - and to change their style of play.

"We want to play a different way," he said. "It's obvious and to play that way you need to work tactically and with a sharpness that we don't have at this moment."

He praised Shevchenko but added that he was not given sufficient support. "In the last third he is fantastic," Mourinho said. "An attacking player needs a team behind him. He is an amazing player." Chelsea's other big signing, Michael Ballack, was withdrawn midway through the first half and will have a scan today on a hip injury.

Mourinho, who joined the chorus of complaints about the timing of this week's internationals, would not acknowledge that Liverpool will mount a sustained title challenge.

Benitez was not stirred. "For us it's another trophy which is good for the confidence," he said. "We know it will be different during the season."

He believes he has improved his squad with the pace of Craig Bellamy, Mark Gonzalez and Jermaine Pennant, and felt able to start with the first of those players, plus the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, on the bench.

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