Cole's progress underlines fine work of Mourinho

Norwich City 1 - Chelsea 3
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After one year in this country, Jose Mourinho will be able to measure his contribution to English football in many different ways: by the Premiership title it now seems inevitable that he will win, by his redefinition of the art of the press conference and in his timely restoration of the Carling Cup's self-esteem. But his greatest achievement might yet be finding a use for Joe Cole.

After one year in this country, Jose Mourinho will be able to measure his contribution to English football in many different ways: by the Premiership title it now seems inevitable that he will win, by his redefinition of the art of the press conference and in his timely restoration of the Carling Cup's self-esteem. But his greatest achievement might yet be finding a use for Joe Cole.

For a Portuguese coach to whom formation and keeping possession are sacrosanct, it has not always been easy to accommodate a player who occasionally approaches the game with all the tactical discipline of a schoolyard keepy-uppy champion. However, as Chelsea opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership that now looks unassailable, Cole turned in the kind of performance that suggested he was ready to start against Barcelona tomorrow.

The great sadness for this little jewel of English talent is that if Arjen Robben walks off the training pitch this afternoon without any pain in his right foot, it will be the Dutch winger who starts against Barcelona. But if Robben does not feel fit to play then Mourinho will have few doubts about the suitability of Cole to play on the right side of his midfield.

The marriage of Mourinho's strict tactical rhythms and Cole's libertarian approach to football has not always been a happy one. Against Blackburn last month, Cole came on for the injured Robben after 12 minutes, spent most of the match being shouted at by Mourinho and was removed with 11 minutes left to make way for Jiri Jarosik, the kind of player who knows how to obey orders.

At Carrow Road, Cole was given a rare treat by Mourinho: he stayed on for the whole 90 minutes. His goal on 22 minutes saw him bulldoze through one challenge, skip away from Norwich's Craig Fleming and cut a fierce shot with the outside of his left foot past Robert Green. Neither a cheeky drag-back nor a flash back-heel was required.

"Joe is winning tackles, defending well and reacting well when we lose the ball," Mourinho said. "He's confident one against one. He is sacrificing a bit - he had a little injury and kept going until the end. He doesn't lose the ball by doing individual things. He takes risks when he has to, not in dangerous areas. I think he is understanding the game and improving a lot. He has been fantastic."

Chelsea might have been comfortably ahead had it not been for Norwich's outstanding centre-half Jason Shackell. The 21-year-old from Stevenage marked Didier Drogba as well as any defender has managed this season and the striker was withdrawn on 66 minutes, having made little impact. By then Norwich had equalised through Leon McKenzie, who ended Petr Cech's record Premiership shut-out which, at 1,024 minutes, will take some beating.

Norwich's goal provoked a brave tactical switch from Mourinho, who replaced Drogba and Tiago with Eidur Gudjohnsen and Mateja Kezman, and, within four minutes, Chelsea had regained the lead. Frank Lampard lunged at a through-ball and redirected it to Kezman for his first goal from open play in the Premiership.

On 78 minutes Ricardo Carvalho headed home Lampard's corner to give Chelsea an eight-point lead with one game in hand. Their focus on winning the title has reached the extent that it was hard not to believe Cole when he said that he was not aware until half-time that Manchester United had failed to beat Crystal Palace. Mourinho insisted that his team do not care about their title rivals. By now you have to wonder if they still have any.

Goals: Cole (22) 0-1; McKenzie (64) 1-1; Kezman (70) 1-2; Carvalho (78) 1-3.

Norwich (4-4-2): Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Shackell, Drury; Stuart (McVeigh, 75), Francis, Holt, Huckerby; McKenzie (Henderson, 89), Ashton. Substitutes not used: Safri, Charlton, Ward (gk).

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Johnson, Carvalho, Terry, Ferreira; Makelele; Cole, Tiago (Kezman 66), Lampard, Duff (Jarosik, 72); Drogba (Gudjohnsen, 66). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Huth.

Booked: Chelsea Cole, Makelele.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 24,506.

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