The man, the myth, the midget, the legend, Gianfranco Zola. This Sunday, the universally popular Sardinian will return to the Bridge for the first time since August 2004, in a scene which will be bigger than Beatlemania, Live Aid and a ‘Farewell Florent Malouda’ party all wrapped up into one. The only downside is, he’s going to bring West Ham United with him.
Since leaving Chelsea to return to his hometown club Cagliari, Zola has always been linked with a return to SW6. If Osgood is king, then surely Zola is prince of the Bridge, and we would have certainly laid out the red carpet for him if he decided to make a comeback. Instead, he coached the Italian Under-21’s before opting to join the Hammers as head honcho back in September. He has endured a difficult time since then, with thirteen games under his belt and just three wins to his name. But hey, he’s the magic man, he can do anything!
Of course, along with Zola we will be welcoming back a few more ex-Blues to the fold on Sunday. Whereas we once mocked West Ham for being our ‘feeder club’ (Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson), Zola quickly turned the tables when he joined, snatching Steve Clarke from under Luis Scolari’s moustache and appointing the Scot as his assistant. Clarke joins Scott Parker and Carlton Cole as former Chelsea men now plying their trade for the Upton Park side.
Whereas Parker and Cole are likely to start, West Ham do have a handful of players out of the game. Jonathan Spector and Kieron Dyer (the latter has been out for what seems like a decade) are still returning from injury and aren’t match fit yet, while Danny Gabiddon and Dean Ashton are also on the sidelines. Lee Bowyer has recovered from a virus to rejoin the squad for Sunday’s game.
As usual, Chelsea have their fair share of injuries although it must be said that the ‘crisis’ seems to be clearing up. Franco di Santo and Ricardo Carvalho are still doubts, while Juliano Belletti made his comeback from an ankle injury to play the last 15 minutes of the mid-week win over CFR Cluj. The West Ham website claims Florent Malouda has a hamstring injury, which may be one of those hamstring injuries Ashley Cole used to suspiciously pick up just before we were due to play Arsenal, or one of those hamstring injuries which used to impinge Andriy Shevchenko when he was going through a bad run of form. Basically, about as legit as a £73 note.
In recent years all eyes have been on Lampard, and to some extent Joe Cole, when we face their former club. The last time we played West Ham, Lampard had the upper hand over the Hammers fans who barrack him each and every time he faces them. Back on the opening day of March, Lampard scored a penalty to set up a 4-0 win at Upton Park, with Joe Cole also getting on the score sheet along with Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole. The last game at the Bridge ended in a more modest scoreline, albeit with the same end product. Another Joe Cole goal gave us the three points.
But Sunday’s game will be all about a returning hero, and one we can appreciate as football fans. Zola won’t be getting wall-to-wall boos and catcalls, Steve Clarke won’t be sworn at and threatened. Carlton Cole and Scott Parker may even get ovations for the part they have played in Chelsea’s history.
The only shame is, we’re going to have to beat their side. Our home form has been sketchy to say the least, with two wins, two draws (including Burnley), and two defeats in our last six games at the Bridge. Sunday could be the day where everything clicks back into place for Chelsea. West Ham aren’t at their best and could be lambs to the slaughter. It would do wonders for Franco’s reputation though…not at West Ham obviously, but we would love him even more! Welcome back magic man, but the pleasantries only exist for so long.
Prediction: Is it too much to ask for a Chelsea win and a happy Gianfranco Zola at the final whistle? He’s under pressure at West Ham already, and a big Blues win could seriously harm his job prospects. But we’re chasing Liverpool and crocked Torres or not, they will no doubt continue to grind out wins. Sorry Franco, but this must be a win for Chelsea. Hopefully we’ll go easy on your boys and settle for a 2-0!