Barcelona v Chelsea: Ashley Cole can"t be overlooked

Don't overlook classy Cole's contributions for Chelsea

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UPDATED:

00:11 GMT, 24 April 2012

Ashley Cole's outstanding performance at Stamford Bridge last week was a reminder of how good he is – and how far his standards slipped earlier this season.

It may be the cumulative result of his injury problems or disillusion with his role under Andre Villas-Boas but Cole has not performed consistently at his best this season.

Doing the business: Cole was impressive against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge

Doing the business: Cole was impressive against Barca at Stamford Bridge

His fellow professionals chose Leighton Baines as the Premier League's best left back this season, the first time another Englishman has been selected ahead of Cole for this honour since Cole first appeared in the team of the year in 2003.

It underlines the case for Baines to displace Cole at international level yet Chelsea's enduring European campaign owes so much to a couple of vital contributions from 31-year-old with 93 England caps.

Ahead of the quarter-final against Benfica, Roberto Di Matteo paid tribute to Cole's goal-line clearance in Naples, when Christian Maggio seemed certain to stretch Napoli's lead to 4-1.

Squat: Di Matteo paid tribute to Cole's goal-line clearance in Naples

Squat: Di Matteo paid tribute to Cole's goal-line clearance in Naples

Without it, surely this adventure would have been over at the first knock-out stage.

Somehow, Cole scrambled the ball away as he did again last week against Barcelona when Cesc Fabregas had clipped it over Petr Cech and it rolled towards the goal.

In doing so, he denied Barca a vital away goal and made a victory in the Nou Camp seem so much more achievable.

Messi mystery

Chelsea are unbeaten in six games against Barcelona, Lionel Messi has not scored in seven games against the Blues and, for once, there is a grain of self-doubt inside the Nou Camp.

'Allow me to never worry about Lionel Messi, even if he goes 27 games without scoring,' said Pep Guardiola.

MODERN RIVALRY

This is a very modern rivalry. As the Chelsea squad took off from Gatwick on Monday, it was pointed out that they were embarking upon a fifth trip to Barcelona since their last trip to Leeds. The opponents may be different but the contests have proved similarly ill-tempered.

'He can't score three goals every day and give three assists. He has scored an amazing amount of goals this year. He lives to score and feels responsible for his part. Let him be happy on the pitch.'

Saturday's home defeat by Real Madrid came following accusations of a leak from within the camp about Guardiola's surprising team selection, which the Barca boss shrugged off as something which could have come from 'a gardener or anybody'.

Off target: Messi hasn't scored in seven games against the Blues

Off target: Messi hasn't scored in seven games against the Blues

Then the Spanish papers reported accurately that Messi had missed training on Sunday, again something Guardiola played down.

'He had a gastric problem,' explained the manager and Messi did not appear troubled as he trained last night.

Chelsea united

Like his predecessor, Di Matteo has been at pains to stress the group ethic at Chelsea and tried to involve almost his entire squad.

CRUYFF SPEAKS HIS MIND

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry was in the Nou Camp on Monday night and another former Barcelona favourite, Johan Cruyff, offered his support by differentiating between the two defeats in four days suffered by his former team.

'The defeat against Real is different to the loss against Chelsea,' said Cruyff. 'In London enough opportunities were created that just were not converted. Against Real there were hardly any opportunities to score. Still, I expect Barcelona to make it against Chelsea.'

Like his predecessor, Di Matteo has been at pains to stress the group ethic at Chelsea and tried to involve almost his entire squad.

David Luiz, who tore a hamstring in the FA Cup semifinal, was among 25 who travelled to Barcelona even though his chances of playing are very slim.

Henrique Hilario joined the goalkeepers for a work-out even though he is not in the Champions League squad.

The only notable absentee was Romelu Lukaku, also not in the squad, who stayed behind to play in the reserves against Manchester United.

The ethos extends to bonuses, with the team reportedly in line to share 10million if they lift the European Cup.