Ashley Cole's return to the Chelsea first-team will be short-lived after José Mourinho confirmed the England left-back will start on the bench in Monday's derby against his former club, Arsenal, whose Christmas party the defender had attended in midweek.
Cole was photographed at the venue in central London where Arsène Wenger's squad held their party on Wednesday night, 24 hours after Chelsea had been beaten by Sunderland in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup. The 33-year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Friday, had started the game at the Stadium of Light but will again be usurped by César Azpilicueta at the Emirates.
Mourinho confirmed the Spain international, more naturally a right-back but effective on the opposite flank over recent weeks, had recovered from a kick which had prompted his substitution on Wearside 20 minutes from the end of normal time. Asked where that left Cole, the manager said: "On the bench or at home. He will not play from the beginning, no. I will play [Branislav] Ivanovic right-back and Azpilicueta left-back, and John Terry.
"I have to make a decision between [Gary] Cahill and David [Luiz]. From the beginning, Ashley is not playing. Unless … well, today is Friday, the game is Monday. Something can happen in between. Normally, I'll play Azpilicueta at left-back."
Cole has not started a league game since the defeat at Newcastle in early November, when he was still suffering the effects of a rib injury, with Azpilicueta's displays since being considered faultless by the management. The veteran left-back, however, is expected to play a significant role in the busy weeks ahead.
Mourinho was reluctant to address Cole's presence at Libertine, alongside his team-mates Ryan Bertrand and André Schürrle, and stressed the full-back had been free to use the day off granted by the management as he saw fit. He had had minimal involvement with the Arsenal squad's celebrations, Chelsea's players having also originally been due to attend the venue that evening only for the squad to postpone their event until the new year.
"I have my opinion but I keep it for myself," Mourinho said. "It was a free day for them, so I'm not a father. I'm a manager. I can control what they do when they are with me. I cannot control what they do when they are not with me. I don't want to comment. I have my opinion but I keep it to myself.
"I've not even given my opinion to Ashley Cole because I don't have to. It was his free day, his free night. The next morning we didn't train. We only trained in the afternoon, so I have no right to make a comment. I won't. I just have my opinion."
Much concern has been expressed about Chelsea's shortcomings up front but Mourinho used his training session to work solely on defensive shape and tactics, having seen his team keep only one clean sheet in seven matches in all competitions. Mourinho is hoping to extend his unbeaten run against sides managed by Wenger to 10 matches, and to move above their London rivals in the process.
"It's not me against Wenger, it's my Chelsea against his Arsenal," he said. "It has no influence that stat. It means nothing for Monday. But, in the past, I just feel we've played better, we've deserved more, and we won these matches. In my time, I remember just one game where we were close to losing, a game at home [seven years ago] where Michael Essien scored an equaliser in the last part of the game. Even at the Emirates, playing with 10 men for 45 minutes [in May 2007], we played a fantastic match and drew 1-1. My memories are that, against them, we play very good matches. As a consequence, we have got good results."