Joe Cole believes that Chelsea will take the opportunity to show their true resilience tonight as they host Everton in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. With central figures such as John Terry and Frank Lampard out injured, and with Didier Drogba already absent on African Nations Cup duty for the Ivory Coast, Chelsea's midfielder feels that a rare chance is now beckoning some of the squad's younger players.
"Since I've been at Chelsea, young players have not had much of a chance to show what they can do in the first team, but in the next few weeks players like Scott Sinclair and Ben Saha could help us through," Cole said. The club were hopeful yesterday that midfielder John Obi Mikel would be able to play before joining Nigeria. "We are waiting for confirmation, but he is with us at the moment," a spokesman said.
Cole is a happy camper at the moment as the club develop a more open style under their manager, Avram Grant.
"We are playing a more expansive game, but we feel we can still get better at it," he said. "I think you will find that in the second half of the season, especially when we get a settled core to the side with players like John Terry and Frank Lampard back fit, you will see a more expansive Chelsea.
"In England, players are taught from a young age to be very cautious and not to take risks, but Continental teams embrace taking risks. Now we are taking more risks as a team. You have to be careful not to go too far, but you need to be confident in your ability.
"Although we are in transition we are still winning games. We are still in the fight for everything. We're still in touch with the leaders in all the competitions."
The England international stressed: "We're winning games while we're in transition. A lot of clubs go years without winning trophies while this sort of thing happens, but we're winning games, we're a happy camp and we're pulling together."
In the continuing absence of Terry, Saturday's stuttering FA Cup win over Queen's Park Rangers saw Ashley Cole take the captain's armband, only to relinquish it to Drogba when the latter made a comeback from injury to play the last half hour.
The club were keen to stress yesterday that, far from being upset about this, the full-back had handed the armband over to Drogba as "a mark of respect".
As far as Joe Cole is concerned, however, the vexed question is likely to have a simple answer tonight. "Michael Ballack has played at the highest level for club and country, and I'm sure he'll take the captain's armband," he said.
Having missed last year's Carling Cup final victory over Arsenal because of injury, Cole is extra keen to gain the full experience this season, and he believes success could provide a timely piece of supercharging for the club's ambitions.
"Winning a Cup in February does give you a lift for the rest of the season," he said. "But we have got to reach the final first, and Everton are a brilliant side. I prefer to be playing them at home in the first leg, though, because if we can get a good result it would mean they have to come at us more at Goodison and we might get more space."