Ahead of tonight’s pre-season game on the South Coast, which is free-to-view on the website and 5th Stand app, we speak to wing-back Davide Zappacosta on being back at Chelsea after loans in his homeland, on the Bournemouth game, and on singing in Italian…
It was earlier this week that Thomas Tuchel talked about how impressed he has been with the attitude of players who were not under his charge in the second half of last season, but have been very much part of the pre-season preparations so far.
The head coach was referring primarily to those who played their football at a distance from Stamford Bridge in 2020/21, the players who were on loan but are back now with a chance to make an impression on him, especially with the first pre-season match in front of spectators taking place at Bournemouth tonight.
Davide Zappacosta falls very much into that category. The right-sided wing-back or full-back last played a competitive game for Chelsea when he came on at the end of our 2019 Europa League final win in Baku. Since then there have been two years spent back in his homeland of Italy.
The first Serie A loan at Roma was hit by injury, including an ACL rupture, although with the pandemic extending the season, he returned to play games before the end. Last season at Genoa had a stuttering start too, but it finished strongly.
‘Near the start of the season I got Covid and after I got an injury, so I started to play in December,’ Zappacosta explains, ‘but for me it's been a good season because I scored four goals, and it's been good because we were fighting relegation and when I got back in December we had seven points, but I'm really happy that the team finished in the middle of the table. So it's been a tough season but a good one.
‘It has been a while that I've been in Italy so it's really good to be back here and work with some old friends and the coach as well, because he's a really good coach and we have been just trying to do what he's asking us. This pre-season, it's quite hard, but it's good pushing now just to be fit for the start of the league.’
And that push shifts up another gear today when the squad plays a game with the extra spur of spectators in the stadium, as Zappacosta acknowledges.
‘In Italy we played in empty stadiums as well so finally, here in England, the supporters are back which is a good thing for us, so we can’t wait to get there and play the game.
‘We know we are a lot of players that have been on loan, so it's not easy to play now all together, but we are trying to do our best to play in the best way possible.’
The speedy 29-year-old, who likes to attack and scored twice in the final three games of Genoa’s season, acknowledges the wing-back system Tuchel favoured last season suits his game, adding, ‘I'm just trying to push and give my 100 per cent and we will see’.
He certainly ‘took one for the team’ during the training camp in Ireland when having been on the losing side in a goalscoring challenge, his group were supposed to sing a Backstreet Boys song in front of everyone but Davide saved the others embarrassment with a virtuoso effort in his own language.
‘The song was an Italian song called Bella Ciao, but there were four games and we won three games, but the boss just to keep pushing us said the team who loses this last game is going to sing so we lost the game and I had to do it.’
It is not the only time Italian singing has been heard recently, with his nation, and indeed an Azzurri side has represented in the past, winning Euro 2020.
‘I did watch and I did support my team-mates in Italy. I'm really sorry for England because I think that England is one of the best teams in the world, but it's always good to win this kind of competition, especially after this strange period with Covid when there's been a lot of people suffering. It was good for the people in Italy. We did celebrate a lot but we had also to be careful about this Covid situation.’
As have people in the UK, although tonight’s game in front of a proper crowd at Bournemouth is a step on the road back to normality.
If you cannot be there, you can watch the action for free on chelseafc.com and The 5th Stand app with the stream starting at 7.25pm UK time ahead of a 7.45pm kick-off. Click for details