LONDON – Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola has backed Gonzalo Higuain to make an instant impact at Stamford Bridge as the Argentina striker prepares for his debut this weekend.
Higuain joined Chelsea on loan from Juventus on Thursday, and could make his first appearance for the Blues in the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday.
“There are players who need to be rested and it could be an opportunity,” Zola told reporters on Friday.
The 31-year-old was at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea’s League Cup semi-final win on Thursday, but had not completed his move in time to be registered for that match.
If Higuain does start against second-tier Wednesday at the Bridge, he would likely take the place of French striker Olivier Giroud, who has scored just once in his past 12 appearances.
Giroud and Alvaro Morata have both struggled so badly this season that Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri made Higuain his top target in the January transfer window.
Zola expects the former Real Madrid star, who spent the first half of this season on loan at AC Milan, to get up to speed quickly in his first taste of English football.
“We’re talking about a player who has scored not only in Italy but everywhere, also in the Champions League,” Zola said.
“I’m sure he can handle expectations. He’s always produced good numbers wherever he’s been. We’re going to help Higuain to get his goals.”
Higuain thrived during his time playing for Sarri at Napoli, scoring a Serie A record 36 goals in 2015-16.
He also played with Chelsea midfielder Jorginho at Napoli, and Zola hopes that extra familiarity will play a role in helping Higuain slot into the team.
“It’s a system he knows very well, so this is a big advantage. The type of players will help him to do what he does best,” Zola added. “The conditions are good. There is no problem there.”
Regardless of Chelsea’s revolving door upfront, it is Eden Hazard who remains the key to their hopes of a successful end to the season.
Sarri criticised Hazard following last weekend’s loss at Arsenal, claiming the Belgium star played as an individual too often, and needed to show more leadership.
Hazard responded to Sarri’s jibes with an influential display, capped by a fine goal, in the first half of the penalty shootout win over Tottenham on Thursday.
Speaking after the match, Hazard said in a TV interview that it “doesn’t matter what the manager says”, prompting fresh claims that he is unhappy, as talk persists of a possible move to Real Madrid.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 25, 2019
But Zola is adamant Hazard remains committed to the Chelsea cause, and he was pleased with the midfielder’s performance against Tottenham.
“What he showed me was the reaction of a great player and great personality. I’m looking forward to seeing him between now and the end of the season, and more than that. It’s important to react in that way,” Zola said.
“Certainly when we have teams who are waiting in their own half, when he plays in a wide area and he can have more freedom and drop, it gives a lot to his game.”