Gianfranco Zola says Monday’s FA Cup fifth round game against Manchester United marks the beginning of a crucial period in our season.
It was Zola, rather than Maurizio Sarri, who addressed the media at Cobham this afternoon ahead of the game.
The Italian discussed a range of subjects, including the challenge of facing in-form United, the job being carried out by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and, perhaps most importantly, player availability.
‘We have no injuries,’ said Zola. ‘Yesterday was good because we went 2-0 up so we had the opportunity to rest some players like Jorginho, Willian and Pedro also came off. We don’t have any concerns.
‘We have Ruben Loftus-Cheek who is maybe going to be available. We haven’t spoken about the team but because it’s the fifth round, and who we are playing against, we want to win and go through so I believe it’s going to be a strong team. But we haven’t made full consideration yet.’
Zola is looking forward to Monday’s match
He says this is the first of three huge matches
'We know it’s a crucial moment, we have some very important matches. The next three are United in the fifth round, then we have the Carabao Cup final and then we have Tottenham in the league, where we are going to be playing for a Champions League spot. It’s an important moment. It’s very challenging and I think the key will be to face each task by only thinking about that task. The first is United and we come into the game after a good performance in the Europa League, that’s the most important thing, then we’re going to think about City and Tottenham.
'Nobody is pleased when you lose games the way we have recently. The players, coaches, everyone. We know it’s a moment in which we’ve alternated results and that’s something we don’t like. We know we have to be consistent. We have the team to afford to do that and it’s important everyone understands the situation and is working on it, players, coaches and the club. It’s not the challenge, but it’s the unity facing the challenge which makes the difference and I believe we have that.'
Zola was asked to provide his thoughts on the job Solskjaer has done at Old Trafford so far
'I am pleased, that’s the first feeling I have. I know Ole, we did a course together and I’m pleased to see him doing so well. United weren’t in a very good moment before but I knew the value of the team and that they would come back. What he has done in a small amount of time is quite remarkable. He was clever, always interested and you can see when someone is focused on what he’s doing. He has that and I’m pleased he’s showing that.
'At the moment they are enjoying what they’re doing. They are committed, working together as a group and when you have that attitude and the qualities they have, the results can only be good. It’s strange because they had a very good coach before but sometimes things don’t work out. The value of the team wasn’t in doubt and it’s no surprise they are doing what they’re doing.’
Olivier Giroud was on target in Sweden, which pleased Zola
'I was pleased with the goal Olivier Giroud scored, he played very well in the second half and I’m pleased for him. Since Higuain came he’s been left out a bit but he’s a player who works hard and never complains so I was pleased see him score and play well.'