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Zola on Chelsea motivation, Higuaín debut, RLC recovery, Fàbregas replacement

Words from the Chelsea assistant manager ahead of our FA Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday.

Chelsea FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea’s performance in last night’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in the League Cup semifinal second leg was one of the best, if not the best all season. The timing was perfect, following last weekend’s debacle against Arsenal and subsequent public criticisms from head coach Maurizio Sarri.

Was the result inspired by Sarri’s challenge? Eden Hazard wasn’t really having that, which isn’t surprising, but assistant manager Gianfranco Zola, who’s back to media duties for this FA Cup weekend, wasn’t exactly sure either.

“[Was the reaction yesterday because of Sarri’s criticism of players?] I don’t know. It might be. Certainly the players yesterday wanted to go to the final. They showed a lot of personality, they showed a lot of very good attitude. At the end the result and the performance was a consequence. I don’t know where it is coming from, to be honest. But I’m delighted it came out yesterday because we needed it.”

We know the players can play wonderfully. Quite a few of the current squad have won multiple cups and league titles in recent years. But they need to find consistency, which is where guidance from the coaching staff can help — but only if the players are willing to listen, work, and concentrate.

“I think, to put too much emphasis on that would be wrong. Before we saw also very good performances. Obviously yesterday was one of the top ones. We don’t question that these players can achieve peak performances, like they did yesterday. What we’re trying to achieve here is we want consistency in performances, because it’s the nature of the league. You can’t afford to play two games well and one game less good. The top teams are pushing. We need to keep the pace.”

Moving into more specific matters ahead of Sunday’s match against second division Sheffield Wednesday, Zola revealed that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, surprisingly, might be in contention just a couple weeks after picking up another back injury. RLC had been expected out for at least a month, but he’s back in full training already and going strong.

“Ruben has been back in training with us today. He’s been progressing... honestly I thought it was going to be a little bit longer. Tomorrow we’re going to make a decision whether he’s in contention or not. But it looks good.”

But the player we’re all expecting to see on Sunday is new signing Gonzalo Higuaín, who was introduced to Chelsea fans at the Bridge prior to the match yesterday.

A cup match against a weaker opponent would surely be an ideal chance opportunity to introduce Higuaín to English football. But it’s not something that the coaching staff has worked outyet.

“I don’t know [if Higuaín will get his debut this weekend]. It could be. It’s an opportunity. We play a game in our pitch and there are players who need to be rested and it could be an opportunity. To be honest we haven’t discussed it.”

Sarri seems quite pleased to have Higuaín, but he’s been hoping Chelsea would sign him a replacement for Cesc Fàbregas as well and that hasn’t yet happened — and may not happen at all with prime target Leandro Paredes looks set to join Paris Saint-Germain from Zenit instead.

Zola, who rather unadvisedly spilled the beans on our interest in Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson the last time he gave a pre-match press confernce, decided to take a more cautious approach this time around.

“I’m not in a position where I can say more about [the search for Cesc Fàbregas’ replacement]. It’s something we are talking with the club.”

“How important is it to get someone in? It’s certainly an area where we could do, but it could be a problem if we have an injury. I think there is a good understanding between Maurizio and Marina.”

-Gianfranco Zola; source:

Whether or not Chelsea manage to bring in any additional reinforcements in the final week of the transfer window, we continue to challenge in four competitions with a busy and possibly dramatic February just around the corner — League Cup final, Europa League Round of 32, plus league games against Manchester City (away) and Spurs (home) as well.

But first things first, the FA Cup 5th round. Onwards!

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