Ashley Cole Forced to Play the Waiter as Chelsea Prepare for Monterrey

Ashley Cole 2

It took three days of Chelsea's stay in Japan for Ashley Cole, hardly a natural fall guy, to be reduced to waiting on tables at his team-mates' pleasure.

The England full-back's shoddy display on a team visit to the bowling alley as they enjoyed some time to bond on Tuesday night cost him a forfeit. "It was to serve six of us dinner at the hotel," said Gary Cahill. "Let's say he's a better left-back than a waiter. The only tip was: 'Don't do it again.'"

The European champions' tournament only begins against Mexico's CF Monterrey on Thursday as they attempt to secure passage into Sunday's final against Corinthians but, already, Rafael Benítez has achieved one of his objectives from a week-long stay in Yokohama. The interim first-team manager's brief tenure had been a whirlwind of awkward fixtures, interspersed with only the occasional extended training session to grow more accustomed to the squad he has inherited from the deposed Roberto Di Matteo. The Spaniard had barely caught his breath. An evening out with the players and staff charged with gleaning this club more silverware was clearly beneficial.

The manager himself competed with his coaches on one of the lanes, the players splitting into groups of six with Cole's defensive instincts clearly impairing his ability to floor many pins. "It wasn't about who won, it was about who lost," said Cahill. "Because whoever lost had to get the dinner in. It's hard to do things like that normally because you have so many games. Back home it's recovery work, then playing again. I remember in pre-season we went out for a meal, all looking the same in [club] chinos, and there was paintballing when AVB was here. We're not here on holiday, but down time can stop you going stir crazy."

There was actually an ulterior motive to Benítez's outing to the local amusement centre, with the manager well aware of the effect jet-lag can have on his squad since their arrival on Sunday evening. Back in 2005 when he brought Liverpool here for this competition, José Reina and a number of other senior players had drifted off to sleep in the tactical meeting ahead of the semi-final victory against Deportivo Saprissa. "This time we knew we had to do something to keep the players busy," said Benítez. "If not they go to sleep. It's when they're thinking about going to sleep that you need things to do, so we had to organise some activities to keep them ready." Chalkboard routines and DVD analysis only go so far.

They will hope to be sprightly enough against Monterrey, the Concacaf Champions League winners who have been in Japan for 11 days, an acclimatisation Benítez considers "a real advantage". Víctor Manuel Vucetich's side are neat in possession and, even without their injured forward Humberto Suazo, will pose a threat. Chelsea are still considering how much involvement Frank Lampard will enjoy, the veteran midfielder having not started a game since 23 October after calf trouble and with the coaching staff unconvinced he would last a full 90 minutes. The 34-year-old may have to accept a cameo appearance on the club's debut in the competition. "They are a good team, but we don't know if they can match the tempo or our intensity," said the manager. "It will be difficult."

Yet Chelsea can cling to recent improvements, with last week's victories steadying the ship and the manager having an effect. "Robbie did fantastically to win so much in such a short space of time, but the new manager has new ideas, even if he's not had much time to put them across," added Cahill. "It's been a tough few weeks to become aware of the way Rafa works and what he expects. You can see that coming together now. He definitely stresses the importance of everyone knowing their role and knowing what to do when we have the ball and when we don't have the ball. Hopefully we have tightened up a bit." Chelsea, and Cole, are waiting to make their mark on the Mexicans.

Chelsea probable Cech; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Moses, Oscar, Mata; Torres.

Monterrey probable Orozco; Sergio Pérez, Hiram Mier, Basanta, Chávez; Meza, Ayoví, Cardozo; Corona, Delgado, De Nigris.

Referee C Vera (Ecu)

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield in Yokohama, for The Guardian on Wednesday 12th December 2012 23.00 Europe/London

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image: © Ben Sutherland

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