Robben injury hands Cole precious opportunity

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Joe Cole is looking to make the most of Arjen Robben's enforced absence over the next few weeks by helping to maintain Chelsea's four-pronged challenge. Robben's foot injury has given fresh hope to Manchester United that they can yet catch Jose Mourinho's side, who still lead the table by nine points.

However, it has also provided a chance for the likes of Cole and Mateja Kezman to prove they can make an impact while the influential Netherlands winger is injured. On top of Chelsea's title challenge, they also have the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Newcastle, the Carling Cup final against Liverpool and the Champions' League last-16 matches against Barcelona. With Kezman missing through illness at Goodison Park last Saturday, Cole seized his opportunity in an encouraging display during Chelsea's 1-0 win.

"At Everton, I was involved in the game and enjoyed it," he said. "Last year was difficult for me. I didn't have the chances that I should have had at times. But that's in the past and maybe it is good for me to have gone through that. At Chelsea, the focus is now on nailing down a first-team place. If you take away Petr Cech, there are only three players who have got that. The other 17 or 18 are trying to perform when we get the chance."

Robben was in the same league as the trio of regular starters - John Terry, Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard - although Paulo Ferreira, William Gallas and Damien Duff have also featured regularly this season. Robben's injury, which was sustained against Blackburn almost a fortnight ago, could keep him out for up to two months and has forced Mourinho to alter his tactics slightly. With no natural replacement, he is now concentrating on using Duff's pace on one flank, allied to the creativity of Cole or the attacking instincts of Kezman on the other.

Cole, 23, has now made 16 starts this season in Chelsea's 40 games, but just nine have come in the Premiership and only four have been in the same line-up as Robben. Indeed, Cole's greatest involvement came earlier in the campaign during Robben's last injury absence, before Mourinho lost patience with the England midfielder over his failure to track back and defend.

Even after seeing Cole score the winner against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on 3 October, Mourinho criticised his lack of defensive awareness. He declared the midfielder "has two faces - one beautiful and one I don't like - so he must keep one of them and change the other one."

Cole's response was encouraging, vowing to work harder to regain his place, and, despite rumours Chelsea may be willing to sell him for £6m - the price paid to West Ham in 2003, he has stayed put.

"My form this year has been good," Cole added. "I have scored some important goals and I like playing under Jose. He makes football simple."