Meet the man key to Chelsea’s Champions League pursuit

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If it wasn’t for the fully-grown, jet-black beard adorning his jaw line, you’d be hard pushed to realise that all Ashley Cole had been doing since the end of January was growing himself the latest fashion accessory.

Rustiness could have been forgiven considering Cole had been glued to the pine for much of 2014, yet all the precise positioning and calmness we’ve come to expect from the former Arsenal man over his distinguished career was on display in consecutive rearguard master classes from Chelsea.

Against free-scoring Atletico Madrid and Liverpool respectively, Cole was at the heart of all that was “good” about Chelsea and if the Blues are to progress to the Champions League final, he must take to the field again.

In 702 minutes of football no team (Chelsea or England) have conceded a goal with the 33-year-old on the pitch.

That’s a stretch of 10 matches, seven of which have seen Cole complete the full 90 minutes, where the defence has held firm. After a goalless first leg against Atleti at the Vicente Calderon stadium, another clean sheet is a necessity for Jose Mourinho’s side at home.

It’s 7/5 that Cole and co keep Diego Costa and the rest of the rampaging Rojiblancos at bay for another 90 minutes and, having become well-versed in defensive solidity over the past two matches, it’s hard to see Chelsea faltering in that pursuit.

The longer Cole’s golden defensive streak goes on, the harder he’ll push his case to Roy Hodgson over his World Cup place too.

Seemingly the forgotten man in a trio of talented English left-backs, Cole’s consistent position on the subs bench was destined to see him miss out on a place on the plane.

But there isn’t a better time for Cole to remind the country that if defending is what’s needed, and that’s likely to be a preferred Hodgson strategy, he’s the man for the job in Rio.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.