With Ashley Cole struggling to maintain form and fitness as the 2013-14 season heads towards a busy December, he has suffered the ignominy of his left back spot becoming vulnerable to a player that is more used to playing on the opposite flank.
The England man started the Saturday's London derby against West Ham on the bench, and when quizzed on his selection policy recently, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was quick to point to the Englishman's recovery from a series of niggling injuries as the reason for his absence from the starting line up, rather than "sending a message that he needs to give more" to the 33-year-old.
"I don't have a dilemma," said the Portuguese. "I play Azpilicueta because he's stronger at this moment. He's physically at the top of his game. He's strong."
Cole had to withdraw from England's midweek defeat to Germany with a recurrence of a rib injury, and commenting on his player's fitness, Mourinho said:
"He is in condition to play football. He has a little bit of pain. It's a limitation. Can he sprint 100%? Maybe not. Can he jump 100%? Maybe not. But he's not injured."
And any doubts that Chelsea's England centurion was in Mourinho's bad books were quickly dismissed by his manager, though there was a subtle warning that he would have to knuckle down to reclaim his position.
"Ashley is a top professional," Mourinho said. "He just needs time to recover 100% and put himself at the top of his game and to fight to have his position."
image: © Live4Soccer(L4S)