Club Focus – Chelsea – Zola returns with West Ham but Cole may opt out of Stamford Bridge

A week of rest after a comfortable FA Cup victory last weekend should be the perfect preparation for a feisty London derby with rivals West Ham on Saturday. The game may provide scenes usually seen on football hooliganism films, but the return of a Chelsea legend to Stamford Bridge is set to earn the same respect as David Beckham’s mid-week arrival in Manchester.

Gianfranco Zola, named Chelsea’s greatest ever player in 1997, will lead out a rejuvenated West Ham side as the ex-Chelsea player’s magic begins to intertwine through his squad. Alessandro Diamanti in particular has elements of Zola’s legacy with his skilful traits, while his left-foot has proven its potency on seven occasions this season. Chelsea will certainly need to be wary of his threat this weekend.

Carlton Cole has returned to full fitness and looks set to start upfront for the Hammers and his presence is likely to cause considerable problems for John Terry at the back. Therefore Alex, after an impeccable performance at Stoke, should retain his place to combat the physical and aerial battles Cole will no doubt provide. Although Ricardo Carvalho may possess more pace than the Brazilian, his positional indiscipline could cause problems against the East London side. Gianfranco Zola has an entourage of attacking talent at his helm with the likes of Cole, Diamanti, Junior Stanislas, Benni McCarthy, Mido, Araujo Ilan, or a player who caused the Blues considerable problems the last time the two met, Guillermo Franco. Whatever Zola chooses, Chelsea will need to be solid at the back and wary that Diamanti and Stanislas could cause problems on the wings – a problem intensified by the loss of Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole to injury.

A penalty each failed to separate the sides in late December as Chelsea failed to capitalise on Manchester United’s earlier defeat to Fulham in a frustrating 1-1 draw. This time Chelsea face West Ham on Saturday and United host Fulham on the Sunday. A defeat could see United extend their lead at the top to five points, a margin which could be difficult to overturn with few games remaining. Regardless of needing to upend United’s current lead at the top, Ancelotti will surely have one eye on Tuesday night as Chelsea look to capsize Inter Milan. Inter currently hold a 2-1 lead although having secured an away goal, the tie is by no means over with Chelsea’s home form a real concern for the overtly confident Jose Mourinho.

Away from the pitch, Joe Cole’s move away from Stamford Bridge is looking increasingly likely if you believe the reports, with title challengers Manchester United the alleged profiteers. The tricky attacking midfielder has failed to recover his form since the cruciate ligament injury he suffered last year. Ancelotti is reportedly eager to offload the unwanted wage burner, although this will surely aggravate a large Cole fan base at the Bridge. Since a tender age, Cole has always been sincere in his words – the versatile attacker would always choose play over pay and if Chelsea can’t offer this then the magician will export his trade elsewhere. A lack of game time may prove a devastating blow for Cole’s England credentials and the 28-year-old is increasingly struggling to be noticed by Fabio Capello with recent impressive displays from James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, David Bentley, Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Cole was recently overlooked as Capello named his squad for the friendly with Egypt.

With a tough derby game for Chelsea on the horizon and United playing the following day, there is a real chance for Chelsea to mount the pressure on the Red Devils. The return of Carlton Cole and Zola from West Ham is sure to be met with greater appreciation than that of Frank Lampard against his former club. This is a battle that Chelsea will hope to walk through unscathed with the arrival of Inter Milan on Tuesday night and it may prove a difficult week for the Blues as season ambitions will soon be answered.

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