Zola: Tough test and a welcome return

Gianfranco Zola was on media duty today and our assistant first team coach provided an injury update, spoke about two returning former Chelsea team-mates of his, and also expressed his sympathy to Leicester City.

Zola answered questions from the press at Cobham ahead of our Carabao Cup fourth round meeting with Derby County tomorrow evening, when Frank Lampard will be in the opposition dugout for the first time.

Zola, who played alongside Lampard for two seasons at Stamford Bridge, is relishing the reunion…

‘I am sure it will be a big night for him,’ Zola said. ‘It was very similar with me when I first came back [to Stamford Bridge] with West Ham many years ago.

‘I am sure he is very much looking forward to playing the game tomorrow. We are looking forward to it as well. We are very pleased to welcome him. He is a legend at the club, he has done so much at the club. We wish he continues to do well as a coach.

‘On a personal note, I can say it was a pleasure for me to have him as a companion for many years. We spent some time together not only on the pitch, but also the training ground. It is no surprise to me he is doing well in his new role. He has always had a great attitude towards the game and what has to be done to become good in this game.’

Jody Morris, who Zola played alongside for the duration of his time at Chelsea, is Lampard’s assistant at Derby

‘I don’t want to forget Jody. I don’t know Jody as a coach because I didn’t come across him, but everybody at the club here speaks very highly of his coaching ability. From what I have seen, the way Derby plays, they are really doing a great job together.’

Derby County defeated Manchester United in the last round of this competition

‘We are going to study them. We know their strengths and we are going to be working on that. We certainly respect their value because we know they are a very good team.

‘They have a lot of good players - for example Mason Mount who belongs to Chelsea, also [Tom] Lawrence, [Harry] Wilson, [David] Nugent. We know they have a lot of quality up front. We will have to play the game with a lot of respect for them, otherwise there will be trouble.’

Eden Hazard missed the weekend win at Burnley with a back problem

'He is certainly much better. I'm not sure today, maybe tomorrow he is going to join us in training. I don't think he is going to be involved in the game tomorrow, but he is looking quite good for the weekend. We are pleased because he is such an important player for us.'

On other injury problems, Zola said:

'There is Pedro, who has had a stomach ache. He came off Sunday. He was getting better but there is still a little problem so we don't know. We are going to assess him tomorrow.

'Also Olivier Giroud has a little fatigue problem with one of his legs. We are going to assess him tomorrow as well.

'Ethan Ampadu was back in training yesterday. Tomorrow we are going to decide whether he is going to be part of the team.'

Hazard’s solo effort at Anfield won our third round tie against Liverpool

‘It was an amazing goal. The power in the finish, the ability to go through so many players, it was exceptional.

‘Like myself, everybody was stunned. We didn’t expect anything from that situation. But this is the ability of players like Eden. They can turn something into a goal where nobody else would have seen a goal.’

The tragic events in Leicester on Saturday brought to mind the disaster we suffered 22 years ago this month, when Matthew Harding was killed in a helicopter crash. Zola was asked if our former vice-chairman had played a role in his signature which followed soon after

‘As far as I know I don’t think so. He died three weeks before I came over here, and my deal was done very quickly. I know for sure he was such an important person for the club, a key figure when the club needed it the most. I personally met his wife which was a pleasure.

‘When I arrived the club was coping very well. It was a club going in the right direction, and this was also down to him. I was enjoying a good time in Chelsea also because of him. Everybody recognised that.

As a club, we are very close to what happened to Leicester. We really hope something good will happen to them, like many years ago happened to us after a tragedy like this.

photo of Gianfranco Zola Gianfranco Zola

‘Sometimes things like that can make a group stronger, and I really wish this for them.’

On the success of the season so far under Maurizio Sarri

‘It’s not a coincidence. Sarri was known as a coach that works very hard with his team. He pays attention to everything. The consequence of him doing well is because of his ability to work hard with his team.

‘On top of that, you have to add the team is following his advice very well. The players are benefitting from what he is doing. For example, Ross Barkley and Ruben.

‘Many other players are picking it up very well. They are enjoying the type of football he is trying to implement here. This is creating a good work environment and the results are a consequence of that.’

On comparisons between Lampard and the in-form Ross Barkley

‘Frank Lampard attacking the box was the best midfielder I have ever seen. I think Ross likes to play more with the ball, and be involved with the passing. What I have seen in the last two or three weeks is his scoring ability, which is coming on very well.

‘I knew this ability from the beginning, but at first it wasn’t showing because he was very much involved in learning tactically what he needed to do. Now he is getting that freedom.’

Young midfielder Mason Mount is eligible to play against us tomorrow, although he did go off injured in Derby’s draw with Middlesbrough at the weekend

‘I came across him when I first arrived here and was analysing the players we had on loan. He was one of the first players I analysed, and I said this player is for us.

‘The plan was to keep him with us at least for pre-season, but then an opportunity to send him to play in England, in such a competitive league like the Championship, came up, and the club decided it was good for him.

‘I like him very much. He is one of those players who has the mental speed to work things out very quickly. You can see that in the way he plays.

‘Physically he has to improve. The Premier League is a different level, but he is getting on very well. I am pleased for him, and I am looking forward to seeing him play tomorrow at Stamford Bridge. He will be up for it and it will give us even more indications.’