Can Ryan Bertrand Truly Replace Ashley Cole?

Ashley Cole’s contract stand-off has left many fans upset with Chelsea’s board (as if we need a reason to be upset with them anyway). Despite being 31 years old, Cole is still arguably one of the best left-backs in the world and is showing absolutely no signs of decline. Therefore it seems silly to not offer the England international a 2-year contract, at least. However, it appears more than likely that Cole could be leaving the club in the summer, with PSG reportedly leading the race to sign him. This leaves us asking the obvious question: who will step up to fill Ashley’s boots? Ryan Bertrand impressed one and all with his performances last season, most notably in the Champions League final. But is he ready to replace Ashley Cole just yet?

Bertrand didn’t get a lot of game time last season, but he grabbed whatever chances he got and put in a few outstanding performances, most notably in the 2-1 against Wigan (he was named the fan’s Man of the Match) and the 0-0 draw against Arsenal (he was named Barclays Man of the Match). He made his Champions League debut in the final against Bayern Munich and did extremely well on the left-wing although he had to be withdrawn in the 2nd half due to a slight injury. The fact that he signed a new 5-year contract shows that the club have faith in his potential. However, Bertrand is not yet a complete package and is still a work-in-progress.

The fact that Bertrand is not yet ready to become a first-team regular has been evidenced by a few of his performances this season. He started the Champions League match against Shakhtar at Stamford Bridge and looked shaky for most of the match. He also started against Liverpool in the Premier League and didn’t look convincing. His performance against West Brom the next week wasn’t exactly his best either, but to be fair to him the defence in general looked shambolic against the Baggies. Since then, he has only started one match, and that too on the left-wing.

However, that doesn’t mean Bertrand isn’t good enough for Chelsea. The fact is he needs more game time against weaker opposition in his preferred position as a left-back, NOT a left winger. The tactic to play Bertrand on the left-wing was a clever one employed by Di Matteo in the Champions League final as it gave us that added bit of defensive cover out wide. But Chelsea are no longer attempting to “park the bus”. Playing Bertrand on the left wing is not only harming our attacking philosophy but also hampering Bertrand’s progress. He likes going forward and getting into crossing positions and that works to his advantage when playing as a winger. But when he plays as a winger he has relatively less defensive responsibilities, meaning he doesn’t have to track back and defend on every occasion, only when it is absolutely necessary. Is it any coincidence then that he has looked defensively shaky while playing as a left-back?

If we are to ensure that Bertrand is ready to step up to the challenge of being Chelsea’s first-choice left back next season, it is important that he is gradually phased into that role, not thrown into the deep end straight away. He needs to start games against weaker teams whether in the League or in the domestic knockout tournaments (FA Cup and COC). It would silly to go and spend money on another full-back to replace Ashley given the fact that Bertrand signed a long-term contract with us this season. Chelsea have made it clear that he is the future, but now it is up to the manager to ensure that Bertrand is 100% ready to step up to the plate next season.

So, to answer the question that I posed right in the beginning: Bertrand is not yet ready to be a regular starter. But if the right steps are taken, he will be a worthy replacement for Ashley Cole.

Shayne Dias

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