David Luiz and Ashley Cole Left with Much to Do to Justify Chelsea Return

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11:  Ashley Cole of Chelsea goes past Nicolae Stanciu of Steaua during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Chelsea and FC Steaua Bucuresti at Stamford Bridge on December 11, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON—Chelsea’s Champions League future was already sealed well in advance of their final group stage match against Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday.

Win or lose, Jose Mourinho’s men knew their name would be in the pot for the Last 16 draw on Dec. 16. The only matter to be decided in Group E was where they would finish—first or second?

Demba Ba’s ninth-minute goal was enough to ensure it was the former for the Blues, who breezed their way to a 1-0 victory in a game they should have won far more convincingly.

For David Luiz and Ashley Cole, there was a little more than group positions up for grabs, however. Namely whether they could do enough to persuade their manager they are worthy of a permanent recall to his starting XI.

SWINDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: David Luiz of Chelsea in action during the Capital One Cup third round match between Swindon Town and Chelsea at County Ground on September 24, 2013 in Swindon, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Both players have been peripheral figures of late—David Luiz due to injury and the performances of Gary Cahill, while a loss of form has seen Cole warming the bench.

With the pressure off, Wednesday was the ideal opportunity for the pair to show their manager otherwise. With the first clean sheet in four games, they will be happy enough to have come through the 90 minutes relatively unscathed.

Indeed, such was the lack of threat from a Steaua team propping up Group E, it was Cole who saw more of the action than his counterpart, combining with Eden Hazard on the left wing as Chelsea committed to wave after wave of attacks.

The Englishman played a considerable part, although he seemed too keen to impress—a trait proving damaging to Chelsea's ambitions in the game.

Time and again numerous attacks on the left flank fizzled out as a result of Cole's willingness to over elaborate, looking for the killer pass that would have the crowd catch its breath when the simple option would have been more effective. It was very uncharacteristic.

COBHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 01:  David Luiz chases Ashley Cole during a training session at Cobham training ground on May 1, 2013 in Cobham, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Hazard was equally guilty when Chelsea needed a somewhat more direct approach to punish their opponents, turning their authority into goals, yet it's Cole who will lament a missed opportunity.

In hindsight, it was a strange performance from a player so experienced. He was defensively sound whenever called upon, although there was a hint of nerves about him that shows he is not ready to regain his spot from Cesar Azpilicueta just yet.

Like Cole, Luiz remains a class act who is enduring a difficult period adjusting to Mourinho's methods and the style in which this Chelsea team is endeavoring to play.

He had few opportunities to put a foot wrong on Wednesday, but there was nothing to suggest he should return ahead of Cahill, one of Chelsea's best players in 2013-14, either.

His performance was the first step on his road to recovery and it cannot be seen as much else.


Luiz knows he must cut out the errors that have cost Chelsea at times this term, and needs to become the reliable figure so many thought he would last season.

The David Luiz of 2012-13 was being discussed as a potential successor to John Terry as captain back then, whereas now he appears to be not overly in control. He isn't impacting games in the way he once was and has gone quiet on the pitch.

It's a concern, but not one that will deem him surplus similar to how Cole's plight will not do the same.

Chelsea's victory on Wednesday reaffirmed the importance for the Blues to be more clinical in front of goal as a team. They were wasteful and could very well have been punished themselves had Steaua been more adventurous.

Wednesday also told us Luiz and Cole must continue to work that little bit harder to be seen as essential once more. The sooner they are, the stronger the Blues will be.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes