Ashley Cole 'as fit as ever'
Ashley Cole declared he felt "as fit as ever" after giving Chelsea a timely reminder of his value by firing them clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
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Cole's first goal in 28 months against Stoke on Saturday not only spared the European champions a fourth successive game without a win but showed the watching Roman Abramovich he still has plenty more years at the top as the left-back continues to negotiate a new contract.
Chelsea owner Abramovich has been reluctant to sanction long-term deals for thirtysomethings of late but could well be set to make an exception for 31-year-old Cole, who he may otherwise risk losing for nothing next summer.
It is said Cole is carrying a persistent ankle problem that can limit his ability to train and the England star joked after Saturday's 1-0 win that "my legs can't keep getting me up and down the pitch".
But he added on Chelsea TV: "I feel as fit as I've ever been."
Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo said on Saturday he had recommended that the Chelsea board keep Cole at the club "as long as they can" after watching the left-back succeed where £130million of attacking talent had failed and put the ball in the back of the net.
Cole admitted he did not know what he was doing in the centre-forward position after expertly chipping home Juan Mata's delightful backheel.
Admitting it was "nice" to end a drought going back almost two-and-a-half years, he added: "I didn't have too much time to think about it. That's why I probably did that.
"I just thought I would take a gamble and get in the box and, luckily, it fell for me."
Even Mata was shocked to see it was Cole who was on the end of his clever flick.
The Spain winger said: "I didn't know it was Ashley Cole. I guessed that someone was there. Luckily, it was Ashley and he chipped the ball and he showed that he's one of the best full-backs in the world."
That is beyond dispute, although goalscoring has never been a big part of Cole's game and the left-back warned that was unlikely to change in Chelsea's new attacking system.
"I tend to stay back a little bit more," he said.
"With the players we've got, we have to change the way we play and we have to get the ball down as much as we can and give it to people like Oscar and Eddie (Hazard) and Juan to try to make some magic."
He added: "When the fans watch these players, they're so exciting.
"When Oscar's getting the ball and running at defenders, when Hazard's getting the ball and running at defenders, it's exciting, and the future's looking good for Chelsea.
"This season, we've got to keep going and, hopefully, we don't get too many injuries and we keep going and keep winning games."
Yesterday's game was the first time Mata, Hazard and Oscar had started together and it was no surprise to see them struggle to click, despite their obvious individual talents.
Di Matteo was confident that persisting with the trio would eventually pay off, something that would have been music to the ears of Mata after what was the winger's first start since he was given some time off by the club.
"We have two or three more players, quality players, that like to play and I like to play with them," he said.
"We enjoy playing and it's the way I like to play, with the ball, passing, assisting and trying to get some chances."
Those were at a premium yesterday and Chelsea's desperation saw Branislav Ivanovic resort to diving and Oscar booked for the same offence.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis branded both penalty claims "laughable" but was deadly serious about his own side's performance so far this season.
"We've played well this year," he said.
"Arsenal, Man City and then Chelsea - we've done really well. We've done all right - we just haven't had the breaks.
"This is most probably the best we've played at Chelsea in the five years that we've been in the Premier League."